Council needs to put anti-cost overrun sentiment into law

In a guest editorial today in PubliCola, Seattle City Council president Richard Conlin says the legislative provision pinning Big Bore tunnel cost overruns on Seattle taxpayers is much ado about nothing:

Much ado has been made about a state legislative provision saying that costs in excess of $2.8 billion will be paid by “property owners in the Seattle area”. No city council member supports a policy shift that would force Seattle property owners or local municipalities to pay cost overruns on a project managed by the state.

The Seattle City Attorney and legal professionals have clearly stated that this vague and unprecedented language is legally unenforceable.  The legislature would have to take additional steps that have no precedent in state history to actually figure out how to charge a local government or property owners.  Such steps would be vigorously opposed by all local governments around the state—and the work that the council is doing to develop regional and statewide partnerships positions us well to work effectively with these allies.  Frankly, the issue serves only as a way to alarm and divide Seattleites.

Okay Richard, fine. I trust you on that. But instead of making these assertions in an online editorial, how about making it official? Why not just have the council pass a resolution restating everything you just said here, that the cost overrun provision is illegal and unenforceable, and that the council would vigorously oppose any effort to impose such on Seattle taxpayers. Hell, pass an ordinance prohibiting Seattle from paying for any cost overruns.

Then you, the rest of the council and City Attorney Pete Holmes can stand behind the Mayor as he announces his intention to sign the contracts, but with this caveat in place. (And if the Mayor still won’t sign the contracts without legislative action that he’s not gonna get, well then, that’s his problem.)

The way to get things moving is to help Mayor McGinn to live up to his campaign promise on this issue. You know, help him save a little face.

Is that so hard?

Comments

  1. 1

    spews:

    Well it’s not hard to do, but it’s really hard to do without reopening the issue and having the State take back the money.

    It seems like the Mayor prefers that and the Council does not so they don’t want to push their luck.

    The reality is that most projects are funded this way. An appropriation of a specific amount is made and the local government has to come up with the rest. It’s complicated by the fact that this is a state highway, but the City has been directing what the project will be.

    If you want to build a tunnel that’s fine, but Legislature didn’t want to agree to unlimited liability. If you don’t want the cap, then the solution is simple… the sate gets to direct the scope of the project.

  2. 2

    2cents spews:

    How about requiring the City of Seattle to accept a rebuilt viaduct if any aspect of the tunnel is unacceptable to them?

  3. 3

    Mr. Sinical (...proud 'neath heated brow.) spews:

    I thought the voters in Seattle nixed the tunnel, but that the powers that be in our ‘democracy’ decided to build it anyway.

    It seems like adding insult to injury to force Seattle residents to pay for cost overruns. How will Seattle benefit from a tunnel that scoots all the lucrative traffic around it?

  4. 4

    spews:

    Derek @1,

    Why would the state have to reopen this issue? Nearly everybody agrees that the provision is unenforceable. So they state builds with the legislature say the overruns are Seattle’s problem, while Seattle says it’s the state’s. And hopefully, there are no cost overruns so none of this gets litigated.

  5. 5

    Chris Stefan spews:

    @2
    No thanks, we don’t need an even bigger and uglier viaduct on the waterfront.

  6. 6

    jon spews:

    Why not just have the council pass a resolution restating everything you just said here, that the cost overrun provision is illegal and unenforceable, and that the council would vigorously oppose any effort to impose such on Seattle taxpayers. Hell, pass an ordinance prohibiting Seattle from paying for any cost overruns.

    Well, then either one of two things will happen. Either the state will say no way, force the issue, and throw everything into a tizzy; or they will play a game of chicken with the day of reckoning delayed until there are serious cost overruns. In the latter case there will be finger pointing and litigation, a lot of people will be saying “I told you so,” a lot of other people will be running for cover, and the project could become a real mess.

    Why in the world would we risk this? Whatever one thinks of McGinn’s motives, the fact of the matter is proceeding without resolving the cost overrun issue is irresponsible.

  7. 7

    Mary P spews:

    I’m not at all interested in helping the mayor save face. There won’t be any cost overruns if they begin the project in a timely manner. The cost of materials have dropped markedly since the project budget was developed.

  8. 8

    SJ spews:

    @1 Derek

    If you want to build a tunnel that’s fine, but Legislature didn’t want to agree to unlimited liability. If you don’t want the cap, then the solution is simple… the sate gets to direct the scope of the project.

    … sure IF the State wants to build this thing outside Seattle.

    If they want it in Seattle, well ….

  9. 9

    Irving Lipschitz spews:

    Conlin writes: The legislature would have to take additional steps that have no precedent in state history to actually figure out how to charge a local government or property owners.

    That’s not entirely correct.

    The “benefited property owners” language is LID language. The legislature would have to take additional steps to impose a tax, but a local government with LID authority (such as the Port of Seattle) could just set up a LID to generate the revenues to cover any amounts over the state spending cap. The legislature wouldn’t have to do anything before something like that could happen.

    Bear in mind, the scope of WSDOT’s work extends well beyond just boring the tunnel. There is the work underway now near the southern stretch of the viaduct, the Mercer West work, etc. It’s all that work plus the tunnel construction and mitigation costs (and damages resulting from the WSDOT work) that will go over the $2.8 billion spending cap. How will the balance be paid for? The Port will set up a LID, impose assessments twice a year, then turn the money over to WSDOT.

    Conlin’s being deceptive – they all are. Everyone knows that’s the plan, they just don’t want folks to know they are in the crosshairs.

  10. 10

    SJ spews:

    I think Goldy has the right idea.

    Building the Tunnel is a good idea .. not so uch for Seattle but for the State. The ctunnel serves Seattle’s interests poorly so it would be in the interest of the city to simply say that the State has the responsibility to pay for a road that is ..the State’s.

    Only about 20% of the traffic is commercial and of that a smaller part originates or ends in Seattle.

    Only a tiny proportion of Viaduct traffic is even long distance north-south or south north. How many companies in Everett ship their stuff via Aurora????

    Finally. any effort to rescue I-99 for NS traffic is going to need a LOT more than just this tunnel. Realistically to even make use of the Tunnel, a lot more money is going to be needed to refurb I-99 from the seedy motels in the north to the confusion of interchanges near SeaTac.

    Bottom line .. the State needs the Tunnel to keep pressure o0ff of I5 and I 405. Seattle’s own needs would be better served by rerouting any N-S traffic to I5 or I405 and spending OUR money on creating a waterfront bou8levard for access into and out of the downtown/ SODO, and SLU ‘hoods.’

    I think Goldy has the right idea. Building the Tunnel is a good idea .. not so much for Seattle but for the State. The colutiuon we now have on the boards actually serves Seattle’s interests poorly so it would be inthe interest of the city to simply say that the State has the responsibility to pay for a road that is ..the state’s.

  11. 11

    SJ spews:

    @9 Sure ..

    and the State is not being honest about the need to refurb Aurora and the City is far from honest about the costs of creating a waterfront boulevard.

    As for McG .. he strikes me as clueless. He ought to stay the F out of the tunnel issue and instead challenge the need for funds to create a system of roads that overly the damn thing.

  12. 13

    Mr. Sinical (...proud 'neath heated brow.) spews:

    re 5: Thanks for getting my point. What YOU want is always more important than what the people want.

  13. 15

    Mr. Sinical (...proud 'neath heated brow.) spews:

    Anyone who is surprised that those who are in elected positions where they are supposed to represent the people and do not are wasting their time being upset about it.

    It’s down to the wire on this. The only way to stop corporate interests at this point is to make it not in the workers interest to physically participate in activities that damage the environment or directly contradict the known will of the people.

    This used to be known as the Labor Movement.

    It’s being redefined as ‘terrorism’.

    Let’s have a body count between terrorista over the past 20 years and BP (for just one).

  14. 16

    Proud To Be An Ass spews:

    “Name one project of this scope that hasn’t had overruns.”

    Well, if you start out with ridiculously low budget estimates for an incredibly risky project, why should you be surprised at “overruns”?

  15. 17

    Contemplate this, on the Tree of Woe spews:

    BP has killed more people in the last 20 years than terrorists have???

    wtf are you smoking? and are you going to share it with Lee?

  16. 18

    Puddybud is shocked SHOCKED spews:

    @13 Hey headless lucy,

    Something Puddy can agree with you about Chris Stefan. It’s always about what HE wants! You should also ask him if he read the Arizona Immigration Law yet!

  17. 19

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    Conlin is daydreaming. The state said to the city council, “Here’s $2.8 billion to build a replacement viaduct, and that’s all you get. If you want a tunnel, the difference is on your dime.” Where does Conlin think the state government, which is so strapped for cash it’s laying off thousands of state employees and slashing funding for state programs across the board, will get money for tunnel cost overruns? The Legislature’s declaration of intent may be legally unenforceable, but how does Conlin think the city can enforce tunnel cost overruns against a turnip? Oh, and one more thing — good luck trying to find a contractor willing to build a multibillion-dollar project on spec and wait years to get paid while the city and state duke it out in the courts over who’s responsible for the bills.

  18. 20

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @3 “I thought the voters in Seattle nixed the tunnel, but that the powers that be in our ‘democracy’ decided to build it anyway.”

    No, that was the baseball stadium. No wait, that was the tunnel … no wait, that’s the baseball stadium and the tunnel … no wait, that was the __________________ [fill in blank].

  19. 21

    Contemplate this, on the Tree of Woe spews:

    FINALLY! A roger rabbit post @19 that I can agree with!

    spot on mr. rabbit.

  20. 22

    David spews:

    The problem comes when you try and decide who is going to “benefit” from the tunnel and what “Seattle area” means.

    It’s basically a straight shot through Seattle with few exits, so 60k more cars will be on surface streets if they have to go inside the city – the most benefit seems to go to people outside the city that need to go through Seattle to some other place.

  21. 23

    spews:

    Having listened to the last few council meetings on this issue, and reading Richard Conlin’s opinion, I think the point Goldy is making is where the council is going.
    I think what we will see is the council split the hair; like the mayor they will put into words the city’s position against taking responsibility for the State’s tunnel contract; unlike the mayor they not insist the legislature reopen an appropriation bill.
    Every week, for the past 3 or 4 weeks, the council has had a state person of some flavor openly state that the tunnel and contract are state’s responsibility, in line with the city’s position.

    When Conlin commented in the Seattle Times that the concil would deal with cost overruns at the end I thought he was being flip, maybe he is collecting statements of fact and, indeed, will be able to throw this back on the state with little effort, and in their own words.

    What does the mayor do when the council takes his position but not his tactic?

  22. 24

    spews:

    @19, I think the legislature would come back with more years of tolls, either they allow the city to collect it, or the collect it themselves (depending on “who” pays for cost overruns.

  23. 25

    Mary P spews:

    According to the performance audit released in March 2006, 20% of projects completed in the previous year came in under budget. During calendar 2009 60% of projects in process were running under budget despite significant change orders on a number of the projects. Why? The cost of concrete, rebar and other raw materials had dropped more than 17% since the project budgets had been developed. Most raw materials prices have continued to drop. Labor increases that were built into budgets haven’t matrialized.

    This isn’t a permanent condition. Prices of labor and materials will rise as the economy improves and demand picks up. Delay long enough and there will be cost overruns. Act now and there is a good chance the project can come in under budget.

  24. 26

    Contemplate this, on the Tree of Woe spews:

    @25

    even if the green light was given today, it would be 2 years(at least) before a single shovel is turned.

  25. 27

    Puddybud is shocked SHOCKED spews:

    Worse than that@26,

    Someone from the “progressive left” will claim the “environmental impact study” was flawed and delay the project even longer.

    Then someone who lives downtown will claim the “seismic impact study” was flawed and challenge it in court.

    Then someone will sue over the claim the bore is creating “extra air pollution” from the dirt movement out of the bore hole.

    Then if the bore hits a ritual Indian burial ground and delay it even longer while archeologists check out de bonez.

    Ya gotta understand the fickle mind of a leftist.

  26. 28

    Contemplate this, on the Tree of Woe spews:

    @27

    Yes I know the process….I probably should have put a 0 after to 2 to make it more accurate.

  27. 29

    Mr. Sinical (...proud 'neath heated brow.) spews:

    re 27: Yeah == everybody’s pissed at the treehuggers until their tapwater is flammable.

  28. 31

    Chris Stefan spews:

    @30
    More likely that the tunnel will undermine one or more buildings downtown. Another potential problem is for the TBM to get stuck like 2 out of the 4 machines on the Brightwater project.

  29. 32

    Chris Stefan spews:

    @13
    Anyone who thinks replacing the existing viaduct with two 45′ wide slabs of concrete two stories in the air will “improve” the waterfront or downtown needs to have their head examined.

    A properly designed surface street solution would only be slightly slower than the tunnel or a replacement viaduct even at peak travel times. A surface street would also provide better access to Ballard/Interbay as well as downtown destinations (or the Ferry terminal for that matter).

  30. 33

    MarkS spews:

    @31

    The BNSF tunnel was built under downtown 105 years ago the DSTT 20 years ago. No building has fallen down.

    @32 A properly designed surface route is Aurora Avenue on the waterfront. That would be a bigger obstacle than the current elevated structure.