Remember the Fauntleroy Expressway earthquake-strengthening project? Hundreds of parts to be replaced because of design flaw

(January 2012 photo by Christopher Boffoli for WSB)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Remember the work done to toughen up the Fauntleroy Expressway end of the high bridge in 2011-2012, to make it more earthquake-resistant?

We’ve just learned that much of it has to be re-done because of parts that weren’t as strong as they should have been.

This is revealed in the slide deck that accompanies an item on next Tuesday’s City Council Transportation Committee agenda (thanks to the texter who pointed it out before we’d gotten a chance to read the agenda, which was just published this afternoon).

We’re still working to find out more – a challenge with government shutting down for a 3-day holiday weekend – but here’s what we know so far:

The problem, according to the slide deck, is with the bearing pads – cushions inserted between the bridge deck and supporting pieces such as columns – which should have been designed to be “stiffer.” This city webpage reminds us that more than 600 of those pads were replaced during the $2.7 million project. We took a closer look at the work in January 2012; much of it happened during overnight closures of the southwest end of the bridge.

One slide indicates this potential problem was noticed at final inspection of the work two years ago. Since then, it says, they’ve been working to develop a new pad design and putting together other logistics. That slide also mentions “Additional funding through existing Bridge Rehab Program; balance approx. $2.6M, pending design & additional scope.”

Preparation for replacement is scheduled for later this year; then the new bearing pads will be ordered and installation will begin next spring, with, “overnight & limited weekend structure closures.”

Again, we’re asking around right now to see if we can find out anything more before the holiday weekend. The Transportation Committee meeting with this item on the agenda is at 9:30 am next Tuesday (July 8th).

ADDED 6:07 PM: Our inquiry to SDOT was answered by manager Bill LaBorde. In a phone conversation, he confirmed that all 670+ of the bearing pads will be replaced, and that the $2.6 million cost is in addition to the original project cost.

One key clarification: He says that some of that cost – he didn’t have the breakdown handy, so we’ll expect it next week – is discretionary: The replacement bearing pads are being designed to an even-stronger (and costlier) industry standard that has come out since this project. Since they were redesigning and remaking them anyway, he says, they decided to go with the upgrade, which will extend the bridge’s life. Another part of the added $2.6 million will cover some “repair work” that needs to be done, separate from the bearing-pad replacement.

As for the original design flaw, he says that the design consultant was to blame, not city specifications – we asked, so if they had designed the bearing pads to what the city specified, no replacement would be needed? Yes, replied LaBorde.

Last but not least, we asked if this had been mentioned publicly since its identification as “an issue” in July 2012. LaBorde says it had been mentioned in SDOT directors’ reports at some previous Transportation Committee meetings. (We still have a message out to committee chair Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, and that’s one of our questions for him.)

35 Replies to "Remember the Fauntleroy Expressway earthquake-strengthening project? Hundreds of parts to be replaced because of design flaw"

  • wetone July 3, 2014 (5:12 pm)

    Only in Seattle…. has to be one of the worst road rebuilds ever done and was falling apart before it was completed…… add it to the list reservoirs, ferries, 520, Bertha, waterfront rebuild…….. Is there anyone being held accountable for anything or will it always be someone else’s fault ? The old waterfront viaduct is out lasting are new roads, what a shame to tear it down. What is going on ?

  • smokeycretin9 July 3, 2014 (5:30 pm)

    Hey WSB, is this one of those government friday afternoon bad news dumps they pull, so no one really sees it?

    • WSB July 3, 2014 (5:32 pm)

      Smokey – it was part of a council agenda which generally wouldn’t be out until Thursday or Friday afternoon so I can’t say that for sure, although this is the first time it’s surfaced in a big way. SDOT just found a manager for me to speak with so I’ll be adding to the story; he says it’s been discussed in some of the “director briefings” at the Transportation Committee, which of course is chaired by CM Tom Rasmussen, to whom I also have a message out.

  • Cascadianone July 3, 2014 (5:51 pm)

    There should be an investigation. Those who screwed up should pay for their mistake in cash dollars and lose their jobs.

    It’s not like we don’t have review processes for this sort of thing BEFORE and DURING the work. Somebody highly paid (probably several of them) was lying down on the job, now the taxpayers are apparently going to take the hit.

    It’s Malfeasance if a government employee permitted this and Felony Fraud if it was a Contractor looking to get paid twice for one job, btw.

    My guess is, no heads will roll. Nothing will happen. Business as usual. Shrug, dump another few million better spent elsewhere and move on, right?

    And we wonder why anti-tax, anti-infrastructure and anti-government folks comprise half the voting population?

  • No, No, No. July 3, 2014 (6:08 pm)

    Heads (many, many heads) need to roll. Unacceptable. And I’d also say unbelievable, except this is Seattle. Perhaps if this gets the same level of media stink as the guy running Seattle City Light who was maneuvering for an unwarranted raise, people will actually be held accountable.

  • dsa July 3, 2014 (6:16 pm)

    It never fails to amaze me how useless sdot is. At a minimum there should have been early source approval and materials testing to meet specs. What I can’t get through my head is why they accepted and paid for the project when it appears at the finish they had figured out the bearings were not as specified.

  • Marlene July 3, 2014 (6:26 pm)

    And don’t forget the nearly 1.5-year delay with the on ramp from 1st Ave to the WS bridge! As I recall, that was another SDOT project mishap.

  • taxdollarsatwork July 3, 2014 (6:37 pm)

    That’s the head-scratcher Wetone! What has to occur before our “elected officials” review the contracts with any or all contractors involved, while standing firm on the max available to spend for the JOB AND THE AGREED TERMS on each of their respective contracts?

    Who in the Business World gets away with supplying poor, wrong, bad materials, on their jobs, let alone jobs for our PUBLIC ROADWAYS which are utilized by everyone, day in and day out?!

    It appears that all of the folks listed in your comment do – at our expense… How can this be, and who at SODT continues to AWARD these valuable contracts to companies that appear to care only about how much they can squeeze US for? There are honorable local contractors, Scarsella Brothers comes to mind (don’t know if still operating these days). Established, and accountable. Throw these other guys out, they have had mutiple bites at our apple… I’m tired of throwing “good money after bad” and not having a voice about who gets the job. Re-bid for heavens sake! It is a whole other job, caused by those hired to fix… not much to loose by doing so at this juncture. Yes?

  • smokeycretin9 July 3, 2014 (6:49 pm)

    plus, the new head of SDOT is no friend of cars.

    “We’ll give people choices, very attractive choices,” Kubly said at the press event. “People will chose to walk, bike and take transit because it is the most attractive to them.”

    yeah…because you will create gridlock on city streets or take away all the city parking.


  • Greg July 3, 2014 (6:56 pm)

    Perhaps public agencies should start requiring their employees to have a certain percentage of their salary withheld to pay for insurance policies? When fiascoes like this occur, the policies of those involved who dropped the ball on these large infrastructure projects could be used for the cost overruns, do overs, etc.

  • Ray July 3, 2014 (7:08 pm)

    There has been a significant amount of issues with WSDOT and local transportation issues. These problems are really unacceptable, especially when they keep coming to us from more and more money, but no one is held accountable for their significant and ongoing incompetence.

  • old timer July 3, 2014 (7:27 pm)

    It looks like it was the design consultant that is at fault for not building the stuff right. Is that the contractor who installed them? I do not know. But, isn’t the director of SDOT at the time gone now?
    Seems like these folks are quick to put us into a mess then they disappear with their pensions.
    The tunnel too, Gregoire, Nickles, Conlin – all off grazing in pension pastureland while we deal with the pile of stink they left us.
    There should be some kind of clawback on these decisions gone bad.

  • dsa July 3, 2014 (7:53 pm)

    This is the earthquake protection that someone dropped the ball about. If slide 9 of this series doesn’t bother you, you probably work for sdot.

    • WSB July 3, 2014 (7:58 pm)

      DSA, just fyi, that’s in the story. First link, “slide deck.” I wasn’t able immediately to upload it to Scribd (the embeddable PDF viewer for those who just don’t want to follow links) but will be trying again.

  • clark5080 July 3, 2014 (8:39 pm)

    Don’t to forget to add the water reservoir’s that weren’t up to snuff either and need to be reworked

  • ourtaxdollarsatwork July 3, 2014 (8:57 pm)

    All projects mentioned have have morphed into money-pit holes simply due to gross over-sight incompetence or out-right unwillingness to perform the job which they are being paid to do.

    Each person is at fault for their personal failure to do what was necessary to reverse or at least stop the continued bleeding and waste of resources, material and human. The design consultant may be the first, but everyone who knew about the project’s dangerous short-commings is responsible as well.

    The question for “NOW” is: Who is going to hold these parties accountable? The new Dept Head from Chicago? Does he have a work ethic and determination to serve this city? Time will tell.

    Demand accountabilty and follow-through from those who are responsible to US for these situations… Afterall, it’s your dollar that they are paid with.

  • TBone July 3, 2014 (9:40 pm)

    🎶Build it once! Build it twice! Then we can make quadruple the price!🎶

    🎶If we don’t get it right we will build it again, in quintuple fashion! Employment again!🎶

    🎶Oh Seattle, Seattle! Such a great place to be! We will build it right, eventually…🎶

    🎶Sit back and relax, and leave it to us – it wouldn’t be a problem if you just rode the bus🎶

  • WS4life July 3, 2014 (10:46 pm)

    They always choose or sell us on a “cheaper” retrofit. That in the end backfires costing US more and more $$$ etc etc. Instead of tearing the old failing structures down and rebuilding with new modern methods. The frase “lipstick on a pig” comes to mind when I think of WSDOT and our aging/failing infrastructure in and around Seattle. It seems like all these so called public works projects are just huge money grabs for incompetent contractors.
    If it’s broke we’ll eventually try & then try again & again to fix it, the Seattle way.

  • K'lo July 3, 2014 (11:01 pm)

    It does seem that the all DOT’s,be it state, city, county are lacking in pride in the job they are tasked with doing. It is a pity there is no pride in a job well done any more.

  • liouxlioux July 4, 2014 (12:05 am)

    Why does every civil engineering project in this town require do-overs? Is it just Seattle or a national trend of poor workmanship?

  • dsa July 4, 2014 (12:27 am)

    Tracy, I knew the slide link was in the story. I just wanted to emphasize it.
    That bearing pad in slide 8 is scary. I can’t understand why they did not stop as soon as the first one was placed. In case folks don’t know, the entire bridge section is just sitting on those, held there by gravity. These look like they are failing, certainly they have little lateral motion available.

  • Bill LaBorde July 4, 2014 (1:33 am)

    Just to clarify, the design contractor accepted responsibility for the error and is paying the cost to fix it. The insufficiency of the bearing pads was only noticeable after they had been in place for awhile. The insufficiency of the pads is not an issue of structural integrity, it’s an issue of long term wear and tear. The structure is safe.

  • Carol July 4, 2014 (7:18 am)

    Folks have touched on this but this from the story raises the question: what kind of quality checks does SDOT have in place to confirm quality. IF these were not put in per spec, why wasn’t that caught at the time?

    From story “As for the original design flaw, he says that the design consultant was to blame, not city specifications – we asked, so if they had designed the bearing pads to what the city specified, no replacement would be needed? Yes, replied LaBorde.”

  • carole July 4, 2014 (8:17 am)

    It was a design consultant’s flaw. Was the design consultant hired, I.e., not an internal sdot employee? Professionals like design consultants, architects, engineers, in the private world (non-government) normally carry E&O insurance. (Errors and omissions). Why is this not a factor in replacement costs?

    • WSB July 4, 2014 (8:39 am)

      Please see Bill LaBorde’s comment upthread, which came in after we went offline for the night. This is consistent with slide #11, but what the reimbursed “design cost” was, he said in our conversation earlier in the evening, he didn’t have the breakdown – the same page says the bottom line is that the city still is spending $2.6 million more, which includes the increased materials/manufacturing cost of the new pads built to an even higher standard. I hope to be able to get that breakdown from SDOT on Monday, since the committee meeting isn’t until Tuesday. – TR

  • jwright July 4, 2014 (8:56 am)

    My favorite comment was from ourtaxdollars at work: “Who in the Business World gets away with supplying poor, wrong, bad materials, on their jobs?” Anyone who sincerely believes these kind of problems with projects are limited to government projects doesn’t get out much.

  • wetone July 4, 2014 (10:22 am)

    It is not only the money factor which is huge in many cases we have had lately, but how about all the traffic problems and many other factors that impact our lives with these type’s of reworks ? This roadway surface started falling apart before it was even finished and continues so. All one has to do is drive east bound W/S to I-5 to see the patch work job of asphalt on surface by SDOT on the 2 year old road. Wait till it rains/ freezes causing more damage do to the inferior surface and just terrible work. It cracks me up the way our city always pushes the blame elsewhere. Who hirers the contractors and awards the contracts ? those people should be the ones responsible and held accountable as they are not doing their due diligence, whether in proper spec’s like heavy truck usage, concrete, rebar, bonding, sealing, seismic spec’s… City just has to look into the mirror to find the problem.

  • flimflam July 4, 2014 (10:27 am)

    this would be funny if it wasn’t such an expensive “broken record” type of situation. state and city DOT apparently has little oversight or consequence for their constant failures.

  • rob July 4, 2014 (11:15 am)

    We can’t forget our city built the new dump twice. Can’t wait to see what they screw up with the new Arbor heights school.

    • WSB July 4, 2014 (12:31 pm)

      The city doesn’t build schools, Seattle Public Schools does. Most recently built school in West Seattle was the new Denny, adjacent to extensively renovated Chief Sealth IHS. No major problems have surfaced, I believe … SPS is currently finishing the Fairmount Park expansion before that school reopens after seven years of closure, and will then embark on Arbor Heights *and* Genesee Hill new builds almost simultaneously. – TR

  • dawsonct July 4, 2014 (12:03 pm)

    I would be interested to find out how many of the “only in Seattle”ites upthread give the news of other comparable-sized cities the same scrutiny as they do ours.

  • G July 4, 2014 (12:52 pm)

    My concern would extend to our willingness to accept uninspired designs for public venues, public works that we’ll have to be looking at for a long, long time. Sculpture Park? I think a simple green field would have been an improvement over that discombobulated mess. The problem? It’s politically incorrect to criticize anything in Seattle, and therefore we get the same old, same old. Time for Seattle to grow up.

  • Born on Alki July 5, 2014 (9:17 am)

    I wonder is the new tunnel will meet siesmic codes if it ever gets completed? Oh wait, we should have flying cars by then!

  • W.Seattle July 7, 2014 (2:04 pm)

    The bad bearing pads have been an issue of discussion for more than a year. Must have taken a long time to sort out the contractor’s initial dispute over who would pay.

  • BT July 7, 2014 (4:56 pm)

    To recap these comments, the design consultant (who was surely insured for this type of claim) agreed to pay the cost to fix their problem (not taxpayers/City). Then the City decided to go ahead and change the spec for the replacement parts, which will add costs to the project (higher strength material). So to be clear, the extra cost to be paid is entirely due to the City’s decisions, not the consultant designers.

Sorry, comment time is over.