Friday, December 24, 2010

McGinn’s No Cost Overruns Position On Tunnel Project Based On Faulty Premise

The real questions concerning the tunnel project are:

1. Does the Deep Bore Tunnel, agreed to by every stakeholder in the State but Mayor McGinn, offer the best option for replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct and repair of the seawall?

2. Can cost overruns be controlled and mitigated so that the tunnel option is worth the money spent for the improvements it will bring to the safety and movement of traffic in the Hwy 99 corridor, revitalization of the waterfront, surface streets, transit, business creation, and the seawall replacement?

In a recent PI blog story Chris Grygile puts forth the argument that although Mayor McGinn has pretty much alienated everybody or fallen flat on his face in most areas of governing or his handling of the tunnel issue, he should still be sitting pretty for reelection 2013. How you may ask? Grygiel and others claim that if there are cost overruns McGinn will somehow look like a genius for acting like a petulant child on the issue from the first day he walked through the door of city hall. This in spite of the fact that he appears to have dropped the ball on every other initiative he's proposed since becoming mayor.

There is one major problem with this argument. McGinn and his supporters have bought into the premise that somehow there shouldn’t be cost overruns at all when it comes to the tunnel. Or at least cost overruns that Seattle should have to pay. I support the tunnel and am old enough and done enough construction of my own to realize that when someone builds something of scale there are always cost overruns. The tunnel will be no different. This is due to massive nature of the project and the potential for additional costs due to unforeseen circumstances.

I have often used the example, when writing about the tunnel’s cost overruns, of the homeowner doing a major remodel of their home. Seldom if ever does the cost of such a project come in under budget. Tunnel planners have use a conservative approach to their estimates on the cost of the project which bodes well for the possibility of bringing the project in close to budget.

So the premise that there should be some sort of guarantee of no cost overruns that the city may have to pay is a false one from the get go. The Mayor and many of his followers have created this idea apparently realizing that it never was a real possibility and therefore I beleive, only a ploy to stop the tunnel altogether. The only other explanation being they simply have no experience with or knowledge of modern construction costs.

McGinn would of better served the citizens of Seattle by working to mitigate the impact of any potential cost overruns instead of his pessimistic approach of demanding that there be no cost overruns the city should pay, or that this or that unforeseen calamity will surely strike us down should we build the tunnel. He has instead effectively alienate everyone in state and local government that may of helped soften the blow of cost overruns because of his obsession with trying to stop the tunnel.

I have insisted that McGinn and his detractors have really always opposed the idea of a tunnel and rather then just say that have worked to spread fear in the community about the project to keep it from every being built period.

The real question is how to limit or reduce cost overruns on the tunnel project. McGinn has destroyed much of his credibility with the legislature and the Governor by the sky is falling Chicken Little style of sniping at them about the tunnel project. One legislator told me recently that in the end McGinn won’t stop the tunnel in spite of all his posturing, and that most lawmakers feel he has done Seattle a disservice by his obstruction of the project and alienation of the very people he will need for support politically in the future.

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