EDITORIAL | Bertha, bureaucrats beat by pesky pipe

The mystery object that was blocking Big Bertha wasn’t Jimmy Hoffa or even a more-plausible old steamship. No, it was an 8-inch pipe that the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) put there in 2002, when it was planning the Alaskan Way Viaduct’s replacement. The pipe was the project’s third setback in a year. 

The steel pipe brought the city-block-sized boring machine to a halt in December. It took weeks to discover that the pipe was the culprit. In addition to stopping work and progress, the pipe did some damage to Bertha — how much exactly is still unclear. 

In what has to be one of the most laughable PR quotes in a while, WSDOT communications director Lars Erickson told The Seattle Times, “I don’t want people to say WSDOT didn’t know where its own pipe was, because it did.” Apparently, the people doing the original survey work didn’t remove the pipe when they were done.This miscommunication between WSDOT and the contractors certainly shakes confidence that this project will continue to progress efficiently. If the contractors really are to blame, should we trust them moving forward? 

Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP) project manager Chris Dixon said in a statement that WSDOT threw it under the bus — a move that could “adversely affect WSDOT’s and STP’s ability to move forward together to deliver this project.” 

Sen. Mark Schoesler (R-Ritzville) wants Seattle taxpayers to foot the bill for Bertha’s extra costs. While Bertha sat jammed, there was speculation that the project may need $1.4 billion in additional funding. When the state Legislature approved the project in 2009, it included a clause that said Seattle would pay for any additional costs. Enforcing that may be difficult, though, since the language was vague, according to a lawyer quoted in a KOMO-4 News article. 

On top of that, it was recently revealed that the companies building the tunnel have violated the agreement by hiring few women- and minority-owned contractors. Payments may be reduced until 8 percent of the workers are minorities or women, according to The Seattle Times. Right now, that number is at less than 2 percent, and a federal investigation noted, “Local minority contractors faced unnecessary barriers in bidding,” the article said. 

Unfortunately, it sounds like Bertha will continue to have more troubles moving forward. Hopefully, these will involve squabbles about funding — but hopefully not too much more funding — instead of mysterious, underground entities that bring the entire operation to a standstill. Time is money, and we can’t afford to lose any more on Bertha. 

[[In-content Ad]]