Bridge builder gets big break

Storms prompt state to forgive 16 days of fines

April 6, 2007 

The state Department of Transportation has given the builder of the new Tacoma Narrows bridge a $2 million break on the damages it will owe for missing its April 2 deadline, saying that last winter’s bad weather caused 16 days of unavoidable delay.

The unusually bad weather triggered a “force majeure” clause in Tacoma Narrows Constructors’ contract, the DOT’s bridge project manager, Jeff Carpenter, said Thursday. Such clauses cover such things as natural disasters, strikes and other unavoidable events.

The only real question, Carpenter said, was how many days should be granted.

“The rain in November was far and away worse than what we usually experience, both in terms of frequency and severity, Carpenter said.

“In December, there was the major windstorm, which also was beyond what could be considered reasonable.”

Tacoma Narrows Constructors maintained that its deadline should be extended by 26 days, Carpenter said.

“We went back and forth with them on the number of days, and we feel we came up with what we feel is a mutually agreeable period,” he said.

TNC asked for days, but what that translates to is money. The bridge was to have been completed April 2 and now looks as if it will open in August, at least four months late.

The company’s contract with the state calls for damages of $12,500 a day for the first 90 days the project comes in behind schedule.

After 90 days, the damages jump to $125,000 a day, up to a maximum of $45 million.

All of the damages TNC pays will go directly into the fund to pay off the bridge.

The settlement angered Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood. In an interview Thursday, Carrell pointed out that TNC was four months behind schedule before the storms.

Had TNC managed to complete its deck-lifting operation on time, Carrell maintained, the weather wouldn’t have been such a problem.

“Everybody knows what it’s like around here in October, November and December,” Carrell said. “December and January are the highest rainfall times of the year.

“We need to be fair with contractors and follow the contract,” he said, “and I think the contractor needs to do the same. They need to take up the delay with their subcontractors … rather than the taxpayers in the state of Washington. They (taxpayers) shouldn’t be left holding bag for this.”

TNC’s deck-lifting operation was delayed by a run of particularly bad storms in November, December and January.

November was the wettest month ever recorded in the South Sound, with 15.23 inches of rain falling at Tacoma Narrows Airport.

The Dec. 14-15 windstorm was the worst in more than a decade, knocking out power to 1 million homes and businesses.

Wind blew over a moving van on the existing bridge.

It also ripped apart welders’ tents on the new bridge deck, tore away wooden safety railings and broke the lines on a barge, briefly setting one of the deck sections adrift in Commencement Bay.

NARROWS BRIDGE Late Fees

April 2: Originally scheduled opening

April 18: End of grace period because of bad weather

April 19-July 17: $12,500 a day in damages paid by Tacoma Narrows Constructors

After July 17: Damages go to $125,000 a day.*

August: Expected bridge opening

Rob Carson: 253-597-8693

rob.carson@thenewstribune.com

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