The SR 99 Bored Tunnel Project passed its last critical milestone in early December, when bids were opened and the design-build contract was awarded to Seattle Tunnel Partners, a joint venture of Dragados USA and Tutor Perini Corp.  The team also includes Frank Coluccio Construction, Mowat Construction, HNTB Corp. and Intecsa.  Their bid price is $1,089,700,002, and the team was also credited for more than $71 million in value added elements.  These include finishing a year ahead of schedule, providing wider, safer, shoulders, and revising the south portal to reduce the footprint and impact on Pioneer Square – as one headline read, ‘Bigger, Faster, Cheaper’.

This is a lump-sum, fixed-price contract that covers most of the work included in the tunnel portion of the SR 99 Replacement project, and the bid is consistent with the parameters developed by the State.  Specific elements include building the tunnel boring machine and boring the tunnel; building the road within the tunnel with ventilation and emergency and electrical systems; constructing two operations buildings and tunnel portals; and mitigation for ground settlement.  In addition to bidding as a fixed price, the tunnel contractor is required to carry eight different kinds of liability insurance and post a $500 million performance bond.

The total cost of the proposed bored tunnel is estimated to be $1.96 billion, which also includes design, right-of-way acquisition, construction management, future construction contracts for roadway connections at the north and south ends of the tunnel, and more than $200 million set aside as contingency for risk.

The tunnel project’s Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) was published earlier this fall, and the comment period ended on December 13.  While actual construction cannot begin until the Final SEIS and the federal Record of Decision are published early next summer, design work can begin as soon as the contract is finalized in the next few weeks.

Although this is a State project, the City is a partner and co-lead on the SDEIS.  City staff participated in the development of the SDEIS, and the City has been a participant in project development since the 2001 Nisqually earthquake damaged the Alaskan Way Viaduct.  Freeing the waterfront for parks and open space by building a tunnel was endorsed by the Mayor and Council in 2002.  Since then, almost a hundred alternatives received review and several were carried forward for full analysis.

Following an advisory vote in 2007 that turned down both a replacement elevated structure and a proposed cut-and-cover tunnel, the City and State convened a Stakeholder group.  In December of 2008, the Stakeholders unanimously recommended to “Move forward with an Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Plan that includes improvements to I-5, transit, surface streets and potential for construction of a deep bore tunnel,” and to bring a bored tunnel design forward in the SDEIS.

Governor Gregoire, Mayor Nickels and King County Executive Sims agreed in January of 2009 that the new design for a bored tunnel was affordable, and committed to proceeding with a 4-lane $1.9 billion bored tunnel as part of a $4.2 billion plan that included a number of associated road improvements, replacement of the seawall, and a significant transit component.  The State has allocated $2.4 billion in gas tax to the project for constructing the tunnel, replacing the south half of the viaduct with a surface road, and a number of other elements.  The City has committed funding for utility relocations, the federal government has committed funds for several projects, and the Port has committed $300 million for improvements that promote freight mobility.

The State has projected $400 million from tolling the tunnel to complete its share of the funding package.  The City expects to submit a property tax proposal to the voters for the Seawall, and to fund the waterfront park through a special tax on downtown property owners.  While the State has committed $93 million for transit associated with the project, long-term funding for transit is still needed and is expected to be part of a comprehensive transportation package which will be considered by the 2011-2012 Legislature.  The City has tabbed transit funding as one of our six key priorities for the Legislative session.

The final major action remaining for the City is to confirm the three agreements for utility relocations and street design that the Council endorsed by resolution in August of 2010.  The Council will not take up these agreements until we have reviewed the signed contract with Seattle Tunnel Partners and determined that it is consistent with the proposed agreements.  Since the agreements protect the City by outlining how the utilities are to be replaced and roadways designed, it is important that they are adopted so that the contractor can take into account the City’s preferences in their work.  If the City does not proceed with these agreements, the State could adopt legislation that preempts the City’s authority, as they did in the replacement project for the I-90 Bridge, and the City would then lose most of our ability to influence the project.

Fortunately, preliminary review indicates that the Seattle Tunnel Partners proposal is consistent with the contracts agreed to by the State and City Departments and endorsed by the Council last year, so there do not appear to be any obstacles to moving forward with the project, despite the continued opposition of the Mayor.