DOT may extend schedule for 520 Bridge project

OLYMPIA — The state Department of Transportation is in negotiations to complete the Highway 520 Floating Bridge half a year later than originally touted by the agency. Whether that means the Aberdeen bridge pontoon construction site will be in use longer than originally planned is unknown.

Highway 520 Program Director Julie Meredith provided a briefing to the state Transportation Commission on Wednesday in the wake of delays in shipping the pontoons from Aberdeen to Lake Washington and because of cracks and minor leaks found in the months after.

“The contractor had a very aggressive schedule of completion of the new bridge by December of 2014,” Meredith said. “The contract allowed for successful completion by July of 2015. Some of the issues that I’ll talk about that we experienced this summer are making it a real challenge to complete the work by late 2014 and we’re looking to negotiate a schedule that looks at summer of 2015 and that’s what we’re still in negotiations with our contractor on right now.”

The project is currently employing 1,067 workers, including about 350 at the pontoon construction site in Aberdeen, with the rest mainly in the Seattle and Kenmore areas.

The current 520 Bridge schedule anticipates continued use of the Aberdeen site through about spring of 2014. But the timetable has not been updated since September of 2011 and doesn’t include any of the latest developments or delays. A new timetable has not been created, according to DOT spokesman Suanne Pelley.

Had contractor Kiewit-General kept up with its expedited pace to finish by December of 2014, they would have qualified for a $2.5 million incentive bonus.

Now, there are questions on who will pay for structural issues found in the pontoons and the related costs to repair the issues.

Dan O’Neal, chairman of the state Transportation Commission, noted that to fund the replacement bridge and the approaches on both the east and west side, it will cost $4.13 billion. And, to date, the state has only funded $2.72 billion of the project. The rest of the funding sources are an unknown, although tolling Interstate 90, convening a new state transportation package and, perhaps, tolling the nearby Portage Bay Bridge have been suggested.

“Do you anticipate these problems with the pontoons will add to the $2.7 billion baseline that we have budgeted for this bridge?” O’Neal asked.

Meredith noted that the state agency had set aside a $200 million contingency fund out of its budget to address emergency issues such as this and to deal with risk funding. She noted that the state agency has yet to settle on the responsibility of who pays for what and that Kiewit-General may be on the hook to pay something.

“We haven’t settled the issues and that’s ongoing right now,” Meredith said.

“Some of the responsibility may be on the contractor and may not be,” O’Neal added.

In May, the state Department of Transportation halted its plans to ship pontoons out of the Aberdeen construction site after tests discovered unexpected cracks. During the next three months, the agency convened an expert review panel, implemented recommendations from the panel and began injecting sealant into the cracks to repair them. The pontoons were shipped out of the Harbor in late July.

Meredith said that the major issue was “spalling,” where the “concrete breaks and pops off and you can see the re-enforced steel and ductwork underneath it.” She told the commission that the segments were improved with re-enforced steel and the concrete was re-cast.

“Has this been a problem with all of the pontoons for this particular contractor, or just a few of them or do you know yet?” O’Neal asked.

Meredith said that the issue was fixed in the other pontoons and the contractor “didn’t have the problem again.”

“We don’t expect it to spall from post tensioning in the future,” Meredith said. “I do want to say that we deal in thousands and thousands of yards of concrete. Concerete cracks. Our contract anticipated that concrete would crack and we have methods to deal with it and the concrete is cracking at .006 inches or less and that’s what we call non-structural. We treat that with a water-proof membrane. That’s the width of a crack, that’s your finger nail.”

Earlier this month, the state Department of Transportation dispatched a dive team into Lake Washington to look for more cracks that may have to be repaired.

Meredith said that since the cracks, spalling and some related minor leaks were discovered, the agency has dug out its old contracts for pontoons on the Interstate 90 floating bridge and the Hood Canal construction project. Unfortunately, she noted, “the records aren’t as good as we would have liked them to be,” which has prompted officials to begin interviewing employees who may have been there at the time.

“It would be naive to think we wouldn’t have issues as we go forward,” Meredith said.

There are nine pontoons on the lake now, including five from Aberdeen and four from a construction site in Tacoma.

Another pontoon built in Aberdeen is being prepped in Tacoma before assembly at Lake Washington, Pelley said. Six more pontoons are under construction in Aberdeen now and show no sign of problems, Meredith told the Transportation Commission.