WSDOT: Leaking pontoons to delay bridge by up to 6 months

SEATTLE -- The state now admits completion of the new 520 bridge will be delayed by up to six months due to problems with cracks and leaks in the first batch of floating pontoons.

A Problem Solvers investigation first revealed the extent of the problems earlier this fall.

Gov. Chris Gregoire directed the state Department of Transportation to get the new 520 bridge finished by 2014 since there is the risk the current bridge could collapse in the event of a major earthquake or storm. Now, for the first time, WSDOT is saying it won't make that schedule.

WSDOT and contractor Kiewit are still trying to figure out a final fix for the first pontoons built for the Lake Washington bridge.
Divers have identified more than a dozen cracks underneath at least one of the pontoons, and they hope to begin repairs after the first of the year.

But the cracks, in addition to the pontoon construction problems that surfaced last summer in Aberdeen, have slowed the project down.

"Some of the issues that I'll talk about that we experienced this summer are making it a real challenge to complete the work by late 2014," said project manager Julie Meredith.

During a bridge construction update for the state Transportation Commission, WSDOT for the first time acknowledged that the bridge won't be finished by the governor's 2014 deadline.

The governor set the deadline because the current bridge is in such poor shape that the state says it could collapse in the event of either a massive earthquake or even just a severe wind storm. Now the state says the project will be delayed by up to half a year.

"And we're negotiating a schedule that looks at summer of 2015, and that's what we're still in negotiations with our contractor on right now," said Meredith.

A Problem Solver investigation revealed that all six of the first pontoons built in Aberdeen had leaks, and were still leaking in Lake Washington.

Internal WSDOT sources and a former quality inspector all raised questions about the ultimate integrity of the pontoons and ultimately the bridge itself.

"To me it's just a disaster," said one inspector. "It''s a disaster waiting to happen."

WSDOT says it is still in negotiations with contractor Kiewit as to who will pay for the costs of repairs.