WSDOT to pay $81 million to fix new 520 Bridge pontoons

SEATTLE -- The Washington State Department of Transportation announced Tuesday it will cost over $80 million to repair damaged pontoons for the new 520 Bridge.

The KOMO 4 Problem Solvers sounded the alarm nearly a year ago, when we learned water had been seeping into one pontoon known as "Pontoon W" through a number of cracks. We were concerned because the 77 newly-constructed pontoons will be the spine of the new floating 520 Bridge.

In February, the WSDOT admitted they were responsible for a design flaw that led to the issues, but KOMO News had to take the WSDOT to court to make the repair costs public -- a challenge we won.

Tuesday, the DOT said the first cycle of repairs will cost $48.8 million and will address cracks that developed in the keel slabs and end walls on four of the first six pontoons built in Aberdeen. Those repairs have been under way since June.

The WSDOT will also pay $22.4 million for the second cycle repairs, completed in April, which added transverse post-tensioning to four pontoons while they were in the casting basin in Aberdeen.

Add another $9.9 million for repairs to chipped concrete done in April and the grand tax payer total is $81.1 million.

But the number is expected to climb higher because the pontoons for the new 520 floating bridge are being built in cycles. The money now pays for repairs, modifications and delays on just the first two of six cycles.

"There will be additional change orders coming up, which are currently being negotiated," said DOT Secretary Lynn Peterson.

Money for the repairs will come from the state's $200 million project reserve fund.

"The change orders are paid from SR-520 contingency reserves which are included in the programs overall $2.7 billion construction budget and which were established to address issues just like these," Peterson said.

Peterson told us the state learned its lesson.

"WSDOT has taken major steps to make sure these types of issues are not repeated," Peterson said.

That included firing personnel, internal reviews, expert reviews, adding quality verification staff and new oversight.

"While these change orders are significant," said 520 project manager Julie Meredith, "they represent important work necessary to ensure the design life of the floating bridge for the next 75 years or more."

WSDOT says the new floating bridge that was originally supposed to open somewhere between December 2014 and the summer of 2015 is now estimated to open to traffic in late 2015 or early 2016, with the final schedule to be determined later by contractors.

The current bridge will be 50 years old in August.