Bills would rein in costs on major transportation projects

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- State lawmakers are trying to rein in costs for major transportation projects -- a move prompted by issues first revealed by a Problem Solvers Investigation into the new 520 bridge.

Two bills considered Monday were both about accountability. One forces accountability for errors by state engineers; the other would force contractors to accept all risk for big projects.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Steve O'Ban, wants WSDOT to report engineering errors to the legislature, along with a review of how the errors happened and what kind of discipline was issued.

Over the past 10 years, O'Ban said design errors accounted for over $160 million in added taxpayer costs.

"There is no current requirement by DOT to keep track of these design errors, how much they cost, what corrective action was taken, if any, to prevent these from happening again," he said.

Former transportation secretary Paula Hammond announced two weeks ago that a design-flaw was responsible for the majority of problems with leaks and cracking in the pontoons for the new 520 bridge. But it is also a newer kind of "design build" contract. That's the focus of a second bill that would essentially force contractors to accept all risk for any project over half a billion dollars.

The bills do face an uphill battle, as while there is popular support for the idea of saving taxpayer money, they are complicated proposals and it's late in the Legislative session.