Pontoon cost overruns will impact transportation projects statewide

Gov. Jay Inslee says he expects that transportation-related projects all around the state will suffer in order to bail out the cost overruns caused by state errors in the deficient designs of pontoons needed for the new Highway 520 bridge.

The pontoons, currently being constructed in Aberdeen, were found to have numerous cracks dating back to 2012, leading to a re-design and costly repairs that have drained a $250 million contingency fund. At least another $170 million is needed to pay off contractor Kiewit-General, which is building the last of the pontoons at the construction site located at the mouth of the Chehalis River. Last month, state Department of Transportation officials asked lawmakers to raise the budget for the project from $2.72 billion to $2.89 billion — but Transportation officials were never clear as to where the funding would come from.

Speaking at a gathering of editors and publishers from around the area on Wednesday, Gov. Inslee says he really sees no choice but to take the funds from existing road projects, resulting in impacts all over the state.

“We had a design error made by state engineers, who by the way, don’t work for the state anymore,” Inslee said. “It was five or six years ago when the mistakes were made and we’ve quantified what the cost overruns are associated with. They do exceed the existing stream of revenue designated for the 520 project.”

Inslee said it’s still unclear what specific projects would be impacted. It could be anything from paving projects to lengthening the time span of interchange repairs.

“I can’t tell you exactly what that (impact) will be,” Inslee said. “There will be impacts around the state, but, obviously, we need to finish the bridge. We’ve got to finish the bridge.”

Inslee says he also remains concerned that if the Legislature doesn’t move forward with a transportation package, including a new gas tax, then transportation projects from around the state will suffer — including the Highway 520 bridge. House and Senate Democrats worked this week with Gov. Inslee on a potential transportation package to unveil. Last week, the Senate Majority Caucus of Republicans and two Democrats unveiled their plan — which just had the support of a fraction of their membership.

“We only have the money to finish the bridge to the Western shore,” Inslee said. “It doesn’t get to I-5 so people are not going to be happy going to a Seahawks game and driving into a giant traffic jam, but that’s the situation if we don’t get a transportation package done this year. That will be the bridge to nowhere.”


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