Monday, March 3, 2008

520 Redone (and done again)

The Governor has asked the State Department of Transportation to look at ways to save money and shave time off of the construction of the replacement for the 520.

They did. It will now be done in 2016 and cost only 3.47 billion.

Neither of these targets will be met and no one believes that they will. Why should they? The light rail is a six years behind schedule, a billion dollars over budget and not one person has been fired for that. The light rail station at SeaTac* just got a $20 million over-run and not one person suggested that they take the contract away from the construction firm involved, refuse to pay anything more on what they have done and go get another construction firm to finish the project. (Sure, you still have to pay the $20 million, but maybe the next contract you give out to a construction firm will be finished on-time and on-budget.)

The argument is that 'this is always the way it is'; it doesn't have to be. Two examples in this state serve to illustrate what can--and should--happen:

The Kingdome construction contract was handed to Drake Brothers Construction of Portland. About halfway through the construction, Drake announced that the design was flawed and it couldn't be built. They simply walked away from the job--though they were merely looking for more money. Another bunch was brought in and they completed the job. The County went after Drake and their bonding company (when you build Big Things, it's smart to require a bond so that they finish the job). The County and the county taxpayers won and they got millions from the bonding company. The Kingdome was completed. Not perfectly, a little over budget and probably, not entirely on-time but close on all counts. Better than Sound Transit and most other projects around here.

Closer to home, the I-90 replacement bridge was done--not on-time but a full year early on a two year schedule. And on-budget. The secret? The State Department of Transportation offered the firm $10,000 in bonuses for every day that the bridge came on-board early. The maximum number of days that they could finish early was one year on a two year contract. You guessed it: they came in exactly one year early and got a $3.67 million bonus. This $3.67 million was their profit; they bid the project at cost.

If memory serves, the replacement I-90 bridge cost about $130 million. Why in the world is the 520 coming in at $3 billion plus?

*Actually, the light rail station is over 1,000 feet from the nearest door to the concourse (and any thought that they can build a moving sidewalk from the station to the concourse is bogus; the garage is seven feet high and the minimum needed is nine feet of clearance.) Hope you like schlepping luggage through a dark and short garage. Of course, the light rail to the airport--near the airport--was never intended for passengers. It is for the 10,000 mostly minimum wage employees who the people who run the airport do not want taking up valuable parking.

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