Head of WSDOT ignores attorney, skips fine for tunnel contractor

by: Graham Johnson Updated:

Transportation secretary Lynn Peterson

SEATTLE - The state transportation secretary has ignored the advice of her own attorney and decided not to fine the contractor building the new Highway 99 tunnel. At issue is not the stoppage of the boring machine known as Bertha, but the failure of Seattle Tunnel Partners to hire enough subcontractors owned by minorities.

The Federal Highway Administration criticized the Washington State Department of Transportation and Seattle Tunnel Partners for not coming close to the goal of awarding 8 percent of the work to minority-owned businesses. The agency even threatened to withhold federal funds from the project.

On Monday, transportation secretary Lynn Peterson found STP in violation of the contract and ordered the contractor to meet or exceed the goals for minority-owned businesses. She did not impose fines.

Last year, Peterson hired Seattle attorney Richard Mitchell to provide advice on how respond to the concerns raised by the federal review. In a letter to Peterson requested by KIRO 7 and released by the agency Monday, Mitchell suggested WSDOT recover damages, assess financial penalties and withhold future payments. Peterson told the Seattle City Council on Monday why she did not do that. "I think what we want to avoid is ending up in court litigating this and all our time and resources spent there and not getting the investment in the community we need," she said.

Peterson says she has ordered the contractor to meet or exceed the goals for the project and reserves the right to impose fines in the future.

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