(2015 tunnel-machine-repair site photo by Long Bach Nguyen)

Six years ago, right about this time of year, the Highway 99 tunnel machine broke down, and tunneling was on hold for more than two years. The state sued the contractor, Seattle Tunnel Partners, seeking $57 million. Today, a jury in Thurston County ruled in favor of the state, saying STP indeed should pay that sum. As noted in this Seattle Times report, the state claimed the stall was STP’s fault, while STP claimed it was the state’s fault. WSDOT sent this statement from state Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar:

“WSDOT is committed to protecting taxpayer money. Knowing the risks associated with tunneling beneath downtown Seattle, we structured our contract with Seattle Tunnel Partners in a way that placed the risks of tunneling on the contractor. We have remained steadfast in our belief that Seattle Tunnel Partners was responsible for the costs of fixing the broken tunneling machine and paying damages for completing the tunnel three years late. We believe the jury got it right and we are grateful for their patience and dedication to ensuring a fair outcome to this case. Since an appeal is possible, we cannot yet say what will become of the damages awarded by the jury.”

If you’re interested in more backstory, here’s a WSDOT infosheet (PDF) also sent today.

16 Replies to "TUNNEL-MACHINE LAWSUIT: State wins"

  • bolo December 13, 2019 (2:24 pm)

    Happy news indeed. Somewhat surprising outcome, considering the previous litigious history of the contractor.

    • vlado December 13, 2019 (5:22 pm)

      The positive outcome should be credited to the well structured Design-Build contract that the WSDOT project team negotiated with the contractor.  However, it was a very large document… and sometimes the sheer volume of a legal agreement creates opportunities to get around contractual obligations.   So far so good,  let’s hope that there isn’t an appeal or additional claims made against the state.  The engineering involved in building the tunnel was incredibly complex and there are many subcontractors involved, including Hitachi Zosen – the manufacturer of the tunneling machine Bertha.

    • dsa December 14, 2019 (3:41 pm)

      If Matt is correct, no changed condition anyway.

  • Wendell December 13, 2019 (4:32 pm)

    $57 million. That’s a lot of toll-free trips.

    • Rr December 13, 2019 (5:27 pm)

      For the win!

  • Railroaded December 13, 2019 (4:39 pm)

    Great news. Construction projects from a simple remodeled kitchen up to a new highway tunnel often leave a bad taste in the purchaser’s mouth, to say the least. It is nice to see a construction company held accountable. Rare, indeed.

  • Pilsner December 13, 2019 (7:02 pm)

    I blame the city for not disclaiming any and all possible obstuctions that may damage said boring machine. Oh well, I hope they leave the money on the cloths line long enough to fully dry. 

    • KBear December 13, 2019 (8:57 pm)

      It’s not a city project, Pilsner. And it’s nice to see another anti-tunnel talking point going away. 

      • wscommuter December 14, 2019 (8:57 am)

        @Kbear … I agree.  For all the caterwauling on this blog over past years (from the dire predictions that the tunnel wouldn’t get built to the hysteria over the delays and cost overruns), it would be unique if those folks had the nerve now to say they were wrong.  No mega project is perfect, but the SR 99 project, for all of its profound complexity, is a huge success for our region.  The tunnel works – and will for years to come – and the litigation came out in favor of the State, as it was supposed to precisely because it was STP who screwed things up and caused the delay, for which they are now paying the contractually-mandated liquidated damages of $52M.  And there might – maybe – be more money coming for the State.  The second lawsuit involving the project policy is currently in the state Court of Appeals – we’re 2 years out from that case getting resolved, but if WSDOT prevails there, there will be more money coming back to taxpayers.  

    • Tsurly December 13, 2019 (10:46 pm)

      Snowballs chance in hell a quarter inch think piece of steel pipe would ever damage that drill. Incredibly weak defense/argument by STP.

      • M. Warfield December 14, 2019 (8:53 am)

        I see you are a TBM expert.Cutterheads wear out from the hardness of the rock that they cut, by design. Add in any variables such as steel pipe, and damage DOES occur.

        • Sna December 14, 2019 (12:38 pm)

          If the pipe was the cause, why did the contractor weld in hundreds of tons of new steel reinforcements when it was brought up for repair.  They must have had data showing the original design was insufficient and prone to flexing. 

        • Tsurly December 14, 2019 (4:22 pm)

          PhD geologic engineer actually, so yeah

    • Matt P December 14, 2019 (2:30 pm)

      Blame all you want but docs revealed at trial showed that the contractors knew of the pipe before they hit it.

  • wscommuter December 14, 2019 (9:27 pm)

    The TBM did not fail  because the cutting tools mounted on the cutter head were damaged by a steel pipe.  The  TBM failed because the inner seal was  breached from stress/heat caused by clogging on the cutterhead.  And yes, in part because it was under-engineered originally by Hitachi Zosen.  Hence the addition of tons of reinforcing steel after it was opened up in the rescue pit.  Matt P. is correct.  Two separate STP geotechnical engineers physically opened and inspected the pipe in  2011 and 2012  respectively and then STP forgot about the pipe and never removed it.  

    • Felix Grounds December 15, 2019 (1:34 pm)

      Thank you…..People keep harping on the steel pipe, despite the fact that that story was put to bed loooooong ago.

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