520 project overruns could cost taxpayers nearly $400 million

SEATTLE - The price tag for problems with the new 520 bridge is finally in, and it's a whopper. Nearly $400 million in potential costs overruns, all coming out of taxpayers' pockets.

"We can't keep continuing to make these kind of mistakes," State Sen. Curtis King says.

Mistakes that resulted in major cracks and leaks in the first set of concrete pontoons destined for the new 520 floating bridge. Though repairs are now underway, the Problem Solvers have learned that the cost of those and of the delays to the 520 project could put the project in the red over what are called "change orders," but in common terms are cost overruns.

"We're hopeful that, and pretty sure that these would be the upper end of the costs, and hopefully we'd be able to negotiate these down," WSDOT Interim Chief Engineer Keith Metcalf says.

WSDOT has already paid out nearly $150 million for change orders on the three main bridge contracts. Now we've learned pending and potential change orders could add another $228.4 million, for a total in cost overruns of $378.2 million.

But the state's contingency fund is just $250 million, leaving the project as much as $128.2 million dollars in the hole.

"We can't afford to spend $378 million more than we should have - for any reason," Sen. King says.

The Problem Solvers first exposed the cracks and leaks in pontoons nearly a year ago. They also revealed a contract flaw that left the state paying hefty fees to one contractor for delays caused by the pontoon problems.

"The change orders are paid from the SR520 contingency reserves," Sec. Lynn Peterson says.

Just last month - the state revealed some of the repair costs - and while they warned there would still be additional significant costs, they added the contingency fund still had $100 million left.

The new numbers caught Senator King and other legislators off guard.

"We've got to address why these things happen, and we gotta assure the public that they're not going to happen again," Sen. King says.

New leadership within WSDOT insists this is the max for pontoon repair and delay costs on the project, and that there are no new problems on the horizon.

And for the taxpayers?

"It's a lot of money, there's no question about it. But we think we have things well-managed right now as far as the cost containment," Gilmour says.

The state doesn't know yet where the money for these potential costs will come from, and there's still a lot of construction ahead on the bridge. Secretary Peterson has directed staff to search for savings, and figure out how this will affect the project's financing.
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