(FRIDAY NOTE: The embedded video now will take you to the archive of the Thursday briefing)
ORIGINAL 2:59 PM REPORT: As noted here this morning, Mayor McGinn is having a “strategic infrastructure expert” speak to the media at City Hall this afternoon to present information described as potential risks of the proposed Highway 99 tunnel. Seattle Channel plans to stream it live online and sent the code to embed it on other websites, so in case you’re interested in watching/listening live, here it is (just click the “play” arrow). We’ll add notes (and what we assume will be an eventual news release link) if you just want to come back and read about it later. It’s scheduled to start at 3 pm.
3:33 PM: The consultant’s statement was fairly short and he’s now taking questions. Click ahead for toplines:
First, the mayor reiterated that he is willing to finalize the tunnel contract with the state – as long as the state agrees to shoulder the burden of any and all cost overruns. Period.
Then, the consultant, Thom Neff, spoke. He says he’s been working on this a few weeks and his report isn’t yet complete. His main point: This is “beyond precedent” – the “largest bored soft-ground tunnel in the history of the world.” That alone, he says, is something of great risk. In Q/A, he noted that the Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico drilling project that has led to the oil-spill catastrophe also was “beyond precedent.”
He says he’s disturbed by the “adverse geologic conditions” – the soil types, the potential water pressure from parts of the tunnel route going under the water table. He brought up the county’s smaller Brightwater sewer-tunnel-boring project, in which two tunnel-boring machines have had trouble – one of which is still stuck. And he mentioned earthquake risk – while he acknowledged that this type of tunnel would be safer, after completion, in an earthquake situation, “if it happens during construction, that’s a completely different story.”
Should this tunnel not be built? asked a reporter. The consultant said, “I won’t make that statement.” But bottom line, “because of the uncertainties, it’s unlikely it’s going to play out the way they see it today.”
During Q/A, the mayor also chimed in. He says the recent timetable changes bother him, as well as the fact the city had not, he said, been informed when a team dropped out of the bidding. And he reiterated, “It’s no secret that I don’t think it’s a good project.” He also took exception to the contention that the Legislature-passed language about the city paying for cost overruns is not enforceable – and yet, he says he keeps hearing, would not be changed – he compared it to the “Hat Trick” video game played onscreen at Mariners’ games. “We never get a straight answer; we get an attack on the messenger.”
Speaking of which, a pro-tunnel group has issued a news release describing Neff as a “tunnel skeptic” and questioning the validity of his findings, for which they say the city has paid him $40,000, because, they say, he has spent three weeks studying what has been nine years in the making.
ADDED 5:36 PM: The state has weighed in on the cost-overrun questions. Here’s an opinion piece by Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond, published this afternoon by the Seattle Times (WSB partner).
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