Jury awards $57.2 million damages to WSDOT in SR 99 tunnel delays trial

In a win for taxpayers, a Thurston County jury Friday decided a contractor should pay the Washington State Department of Transportation $57.2 million for finishing the State Route 99 tunnel three years late.

That number is calculated from the contract with Seattle Tunnel Partners, which spelled out bonuses if the builder finished the tunnel early and penalties if it finished late.

“It is good news for taxpayers,” Transportation Secretary Roger Millar said.

Millar said when the jury was polled, the vote to award damages to the state was 10-2.

The state always contended the design-build contract protected taxpayers from covering repair costs to the tunnel machine Bertha when it broke down in 2013.

Repairs involved pulling parts out of the ground for repair and replacement.

Bertha did not resume tunneling for two years, putting on hold removal of the Alaskan Way Viaduct and the rebuilding of the Seattle waterfront without an elevated highway.

“You hate to see something go wrong on a construction project, but we bought a tunnel, and the means and methods were the contractor’s, and we’re looking forward to eventually getting this behind us,” Millar said.

In court, the state argued Bertha was poorly designed and operated.

Contractors claimed the machine only broke down because it chewed through a steel pipe the state did not adequately disclose.

STP claimed the state owes it money for repair costs and damages.

Before the trial, contractors asked for $642 million.

That request dropped to $337 million after the court rejected parts of the claim.

Following the verdict, John Dingess, an attorney for STP, told KIRO 7, ”We’re obviously disappointed."

Asked about a filing an appeal, Dingess said, ”We’re looking at all our options."

The possibility of an appeal has long been anticipated in this case.

The trial stretched on for two months, although jurors deliberated only a few hours.

“There’s certainly an opportunity for appeal, so we don’t think we’re done,” Millar said. “But it was a good day.”