E. Wash. lawmaker: Seattle should pay for extra tunnel costs

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - A leading Republican in the state Senate says Seattle taxpayers should foot the bill for any potential cost overruns on the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement project.

The machine digging a tunnel to replace the elevated highway along Seattle's waterfront has been stuck for more than a month, raising concerns that more funds will be needed for that $1.4 billion project.

At an Associated Press legislative forum Thursday, Sen. Mark Schoesler of Ritzville said it would be difficult to convince people in other areas of the state to help pay more for the tunnel. In 2009, the Legislature approved the tunnel replacement. However they included a provision in the law requiring Seattle to pay for any cost overruns.

"The law is the law," Schoesler said.

Legal experts have said enforcing that requirement would be difficult, noting that the language of the amendment was vague.

House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, said the state needed to reassess who is ultimately responsible for cost overruns for state "megaprojects" like the viaduct and the replacing the State Highway 520 bridge across Lake Washington.

"We as a state cannot continue to take on liability," he said. "When's the last time we didn't have a cost overrun on a megaproject?"

On Wednesday, the state Department of Transportation said another $170 million is needed to complete the 520 bridge replacement. Officials said an agency error on pontoon design error is consuming most of the project's reserve funds. Lawmakers had capped the project budget at $2.72 billion.

Last week, the transportation officials said an 8-inch diameter steel pipe was blocking "Bertha," the $80-milllion tunneling machine.

The state transportation department installed the pipe in 2002, shortly after a 6.8 magnitude earthquake in 2001, as a well casing to better monitor groundwater flows in the area. Officials said the location of the pipe was included in materials provided to the contractor but the contractor reported that it didn't know the pipe was there.

Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, said officials need to fully resolve what's thwarting Bertha before deciding the matter of any potential cost overruns. She added that replacing the roadway through the Washington's largest city was a vital project for all state residents.