By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The Spokane Street Viaduct Widening Project is unmistakably into its end stage – and “it may look done to the public” – but it’s not done, and there’s still a lot going on, according to the project team.
We heard from them at noontime today during the final meeting of a community task force set up to address communications challenges after the February closure that caught many by surprise.
So there’s still no date for the opening of the new 1st Avenue South on-/offramp, but project manager Stuart Goldsmith told the task force he expects they’ll be able to establish one “in 10 days or so.” Once they know the date the ramp will be ready, they’ll plan a ribboncutting for that date and get it open to the public ASAP, promises SDOT.
So why is this opening so much later than originally estimated? We asked that question, and Goldsmith gave a detailed reply. Believe it or not, the project is under budget and the contractor is still within the amount of “working days” in the contract – the explanation, ahead:
We first reported on the impending project in May 2008. But that, Goldsmith began, was more than a year before they awarded the main contract for it – here’s our report from September 2009, at which time SDOT said the project was expected to be “substantially complete” by the end of 2011 – a status which it now is expected to achieve sometime next month.
The point that has brought the most pain for West Seattleites, however, has been the lack of a westbound onramp to the bridge. The old 1st Avenue South onramp closed for demolition in May of 2010, at which time SDOT expected the new ramp to take as little as 16 months to build – the current almost-complete process has stretched a year beyond that.
To be fair, Goldsmith points out that another key part of the project, the 4th Avenue offramp on the eastbound side, finished “three or four months” early. (It opened in August 2010.) One reason for that, says Goldsmith – “we didn’t have to worry about coordinating with the railroad,” which has been a factor for the other side of the project. 4th Avenue was also in an area where “we could seal off and build,” and it wasn’t a retrofit, so it was “much easier to forecast.”
The widening project, including the new 1st Avenue on/offramp, though, “got off to a bad start,” he acknowledged. “There was a dispute among bidders the first time we advertised the contract,” and the rebidding process pushed the “notice to proceed” back 4 months past the original schedule.
The volume of work has changed too, he said – they’ve added some work along the way “based on things we saw that should be improved” and that added another six weeks or so to the “actual schedule time.” In addition, their original projections were “off a little bit,” he says: “Part of it was the difficulty in retrofitting an existing structure and controlling traffic above and down below – we just could not close things off the way we wanted to for the most efficient construction.”
That slowed the work down in terms of your calendar and mine – but “From the perspective of the contract, they’re not late, believe it or not,” Goldsmith insisted. “They have a set amount of ‘working days’ based on the project, not calendar days, and not every day during the project is a working day – bad weather could push the calendar out, change orders – and we did have a lot of change orders on this project, as we anticipated. Again, it’s a retrofit. We didn’t know what the problems were until we dug in.”
That included the early digging – for the shafts supporting the new construction – though Goldsmith says that went fairly well, despite running into “some obstructions.” But overall, “the calendar (started) to drift from all these little things. The contractor right now has until October 3rd to finish the project. Beyond that, we start charging liquidated damages.”
He doesn’t expect that to be necessary. However, project engineer Darin Stephens cautioned that October 3rd isn’t the last day you’ll see work in the area – “substantial completion” doesn’t mean every last thing is done. They’ll still have “punchlist problems.”
Since Goldsmith didn’t mention it in his extended answer to our “why later than projected” question, we asked about the 1st Avenue ramp’s specific problems along the way – the concrete that had to be torn out, the steel girders that took a long time to arrive. Those were subcontractor problems, he noted, with one revelation: At one point, the 1st ramp had been on the “critical path” – a core group of items to be done in a certain order – but “because of the slippages, it came off the critical path, and we started working around it and went on,” though that “delayed the efficiency of the contractor’s work.”
The contractor built in some cushion, expecting to originally finish “well in advance of (using up their) working days,” according to Goldsmith, while now they are pushing right up against the allotment.
It’s expected to finish under the $163 million project budget, he says, though he didn’t want to estimate how much under. The total itself is a downward revision made along the way (our past coverage indicates it was a $169 million estimate at one early point).
Key points in what happens next, while they continue working to a point where they can pick a date to open the 1st Avenue on-/off-ramp:
*Next week, Wednesday night 8/15 and Thursday night 8/16, the eastbound SSV will close 10 pm-5 am. Then on Friday morning 8/17, the eastbound Harbor Island onramp to the SSV will reopen to traffic.
*Monday night 8/20 and Tuesday night 8/21, the westbound SSV will close overnight, 10 pm- am.
*Monday 8/20 also marks the start of a closure of up to five weeks for the eastbound 1st Avenue South offramp (the 4th ramp will remain open) and the eastbound surface roadway between E. Marginal and 1st So.
*Wednesday 8/22 and Thursday 8/23, the eastbound SSV will close 10 pm-5 am.
Again, by then, if the projection offered today bears out, we should at least have a date for the grand opening of the new 1st Avenue on-/off-ramp on the westbound side – after more than 2 years of no access to the westbound bridge between I-5 and 99.
Our 4-plus-year archive of coverage of this project can be browsed here, newest-to-oldest.