State needs $170 million more to finish 520 bridge

BELLEVUE, Wash. -- The price tag for cost overruns on the new 520 bridge is in and it's a whopper: Washington State Department of Transportation announced Wednesday they will need another $170 million to complete the bridge.

And most of that is for design and construction defects first exposed by the KOMO 4 Problem Solvers. WSDOT also announced that most of that money will ultimately come from bridge tolls.

When WSDOT put together its budget for the new bridge, Secretary Lynn Peterson says they never dreamed of the design flaws that led to major cracking and leaks within the first batch of mammoth concrete pontoons; issues first exposed by a Problem Solver investigation in 2012.

"The total cost of the design errors will be approximately $208 million," says Peterson. She says they didn't budget for the magnitude of the pontoon problems.

WSDOT's Program Director for the 520, Julie Meredith, says the figure completely overwhelms their $250 million risk reserve budget. And there's still two years of construction to complete the floating bridge.

Now WSDOT estimates the total cost for repairs, schedule delays and a new contingency fund for the rest of the construction schedule adds up to $419 million. So WSDOT must go back to the legislature to ask for the authority to spend another $170 million to complete the project.

While a small amount could come from other transportation projects, Secretary Peterson says the majority will come from bonds that are guaranteed by, and paid back with, revenue from tolls. Currently drivers pay those tolls while crossing the present 520 bridge but if tolls on I-90 are approved, they could potentially also be used to pay the extra costs.

Last fall, an exclusive Problem Solver report revealed that the bridge had nearly $400 million in cost overruns which would more than exhaust the state's contingency fund. But at that time the state was still hoping for more cost-savings.

Acting Chief Engineer Keith Metcalf told us they were hopeful that they'd, "be able to negotiate these down." But now, after negotiations, the state and taxpayers will still wind up paying contractor Kiewit about $77 million for the delays in getting the pontoons to Lake Washington.

"This is a very good deal based on the fact that there was a design error made," Peterson said. A design error that the state admitted last year was their own fault.

Even though the cost overruns would ultimately be paid by tolls, Secretary Peterson adds that the rate schedule -- how much you pay each time you cross -- will remain the same.