Bridge project costs swell

HOOD CANAL BRIDGE — When the Washington State Department of Transportation determined how it was going to retrofit the west half and replace the east half of the Hood Canal Bridge, it tried to do it in the most efficient way possible.

But, as with most projects, there are road blocks and the state came across a big one — having to unexpectedly move the project’s major construction site about 100 miles south to a new location.

And with unexpected changes come unanticipated costs.

It was recently announced that the estimates for the bridge reconstruction had increased nearly 40 percent from $292 million to $471 million.

Initially, the bridge’s new pontoons and anchors were being constructed at a large graving dock area in Port Angeles but in August 2003, it was discovered that the construction site was also filled with human remains and artifacts from the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe’s ancient village, the Tse-whit-zen Village.

The state had to move its site elsewhere and because the location changed, costs changed as well, said communications manager for Hood Canal Bridge project Becky Hixson. The original budget had covered all the work to be done at Port Angeles.

“There were a lot of efficiencies covered at that site,” she said.

The state then went to contractor Kiewit-General to determine the expenses involved in moving and building in a new location, which ended up being the Port of Tacoma. Pontoon construction is expected to start there in March.

While it seems like the cost inflated quickly, the new estimates are actually the result of a year of negotiations between the state and the Kiewit-General.

“It’s the work after a year of evaluation,” Hixson said, noting part of the increase in cost is the move and higher prices for materials.

Negotiations included elements that encourage the contractor and state to find efficiencies in the project to help share savings.

“We may or may not spend that much,” Hixson said of the estimated $471 million. “Our goal is to not spend that much.”

Funding sources for the project include the 2005 gas tax, the state legislature and existing state and federal monies. The total amount available from all the sources is $454.2 million, with about $16.8 million remaining unfunded.

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