Seattle council member pushes better oversight of expensive projects

Major city projects like the stalled Seattle Streetcar expansion cost a lot of your money.

When it went over budget, City Council members who approved the original spending were among those annoyed.

"The public expects their City Council to have oversight of these projects. We're not out there building them but we need to make sure that they are being delivered on time and on budget," said Councilmember Lisa Herbold.

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Herbold said elected leaders only learned of cost overruns on the Elliott Bay Seawall and the new utility billing system after the money was spent.

"When we get reports that we're over, we're put between a rock and a hard place. We're often really far down the road with a project. We can't really re-examine our commitment to the project," Herbold said.

Herbold is pushing a new oversight plan to add expensive, high-risk projects to a watch list, requiring quarterly reports to the council.

Some projects will get extra scrutiny and must meet key milestones before the council provides the next round of money.

Herbold says Sound Transit uses a similar system, and if council members get bleak financial updates midway through a project, they can recommend parts be scaled back to save money.

She's already testing it on a major city sewer project planned near the Ship Canal, which is also over budget.

Why didn't the city already track projects this way?

"Sometimes, some things have to go wrong before you figure out how to fix them," Herbold said.