Just last week, the boring machine named “Bertha” finally broke through at the end of what will become a new tunnel for Highway 99. Bertha was used to create a tunnel for vehicles that will eventually replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct that goes through Downtown Seattle right next to the waterfront. Growing fears of a potential earthquake damaging the viaduct lead to the tunneling project. The machine originally began drilling in July 2013, which means the project took nearly four years to complete. The tunneling project was extremely delayed and over budget. The idea of a transportation project taking more time and costing more money than originally planned is nothing new to organizations such as the Seattle Department of Transportation, the Washington Department of Transportation, or Sound Transit. Voters should start asking the question: will ST3 end up the same way?
After a number of breakdowns and overall slow moving, Bertha finished drilling the tunnel about three years later than originally anticipated. One particular breakdown lead to a two year repair period for Bertha before the machine was able to move again. Not only has the project taken an egregious amount of time to finally be completed, the delays have lead to the project going over budget. According to The Seattle Times, “residents statewide will almost certainly cover, through gas taxes, some fraction of a potential half-billion dollars in delay costs.” While everyone is celebrating the breakthrough, we must remember that it came three years too late and could likely cost a half-billion dollars more than expected.
As ST3 is beginning to roll out, we must start asking if this project will end up being delayed and over budget, just like the Highway 99 tunnel project. Thankfully, voters and Republican legislators are already asking Sound Transit important questions to keep them accountable. The recent uncovering of the inflated car tab values and the subsequent fight to change the way Sound Transit estimates the value of a vehicle is an example of how voters and legislators are pushing back and standing up against Sound Transit. However, more problems are arising as Sound Transit looks to expand the light rail. Last month, The Seattle Times reported that “the cost to build light rail on Interstate 90 between Seattle and Bellevue has zoomed $225 million higher than Sound Transit once estimated…” In addition, Sound Transit 1, the first phase of light rail, will cost about 86 percent more than originally estimated according to a different Seattle Times article. It is clear that Sound Transit has already shown a pattern of going over budget.
In conclusion, large transportation projects have proven they can often be very delayed and over budget. The Bertha tunneling project has made this obvious. Now, as Sound Transit expands the light rail system, new and unanticipated costs are already being uncovered. Voters should start asking: will ST3 be delayed and over budget, just like the Highway 99 project?