Sheldon fears mega-project overruns

State transportation leaders said Wednesday they can compensate for enormous cost overruns on the new Highway 520 bridge without postponing other projects. Tim Sheldon will believe it when he sees it.
The floating bridge project was budgeted at $2.73 billion, including a $250 million contingency fund. A state Department of Transportation pontoon design error ate up much of the reserve, Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson said during a meeting with the Joint Transportation Committee in Olympia. More change orders are coming that will put the project $170 million in the red.
Peterson said higher tolls on the 520 bridge or a tax increase won’t be needed. The state can borrow more against current toll revenues, and some funds must come from “efficiencies” in other road projects.
“Efficiencies,” Sheldon worries, could mean delays or cuts. The 35th District senator and Mason County commissioner has seen it before.
He led an effort to get $15 million in the 2005 transportation funding package for the Belfair bypass. It turned out not to be enough to complete the job, and was diverted to another project. There’s still only enough money to complete the environmental review.
“I told them I did not believe what they were saying, that it would not impact the other projects in the other districts, because it will,” Sheldon said of Wednesday’s meeting. “The money will be swept from other small projects around the state, and they wont’ get done. That’s my prediction.”
Widening of Highway 3 through Belfair was delayed for years and split into two stages because funding fell short. There’s $18.2 million to build the first phase this summer.
“They will do that to other projects, and they might continue it with the Belfair project,” he said. “They won’t happen because the mega-projects take the money.”
Bailing out the new 520 floating bridge project could come up during a meeting Wednesday night about the the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which is being paid for entirely with tolls. The citizen advisory committee and state tolling officials will be discussing whether rates need to be raised to keep up with expenses. There’s a 25-cent increase already on the books for July 1.
Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, said he’ll continue to press for a cap on tolls. If a transportation revenue package is passed, he’s proposing to freeze tolls at $4 for electronic payment and $4.25 for cash by using gas taxes to pay the rest. Rates are now $4.25 and $5.25.

One thought on “Sheldon fears mega-project overruns

  1. Sheldon has a point but don’t forget he was a huge proponent of the Belfair Sewer project which over ran its initial budget so much no one can afford to hook up.

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