Special Reports

Don’t let bridge builder blame weather, legislator warns

A state senator who represents the Tacoma side of the Tacoma Narrows says the builder of the new Tacoma Narrows bridge doesn’t deserve any breaks on its deadlines because of bad winter weather.

In a letter to state Transportation Secretary Doug MacDonald on Wednesday, Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, warned that he plans to keep a close eye on the department to make sure it doesn’t let Tacoma Narrows Constructors use the weather to get out of some late fees, which could run as high as $125,000 a day after July 2.

“We in the Legislature will be closely watching the DOT decision in this matter,” Carrell warned.

“The toll payers on the east and west side of the Narrows have already been asked to bear the prime burden of funding the new bridge,” Carrell said. “Please ensure that their tolls are not increased because of the penalties assessed due to these preventable construction delays.”

MacDonald was out of town Thursday and Friday and, according to agency spokeswoman Claudia Cornish, hadn’t seen Carrell’s letter.

Linea Laird, the state’s manager of the bridge project and one who will be among those negotiating the matter with TNC, received a copy of the letter.

“From an agency standpoint,” Laird said Friday, “the department appreciates Senator Carrell’s comments and will be preparing a response that addresses his concerns.”

TNC’s project manager, Manuel Rondon, notified Laird on four occasions in November, December and January that he believed TNC was entitled to take advantage of the “force majeure” clause in its contract.

The clause recognizes “excusable delays” caused by uncontrollable events such as storm, wind, flood and earthquakes.

TNC’s bridge-building operations were delayed by a series of 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 the Tacoma Narrows Airport. The Dec. 14-15 windstorm was the worst in more than a decade. Heavy snow in January kept many bridge workers from getting to the job site.

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.

“You don’t have snow at the time of the year when they should have been done,” he said. “It wasn’t our fault that this happened. Why should we be letting them off?”

April 2 is the official date for the bridge to be completed. TNC’s contract with the state calls for penalties of $12,500 a day for the first 90 days it comes in behind schedule. After July 2, the penalty will jump to $125,000 a day, up to a maximum of $45 million. All of the penalty fees will go into the fund to pay off the bridge.

Cornish said Friday that the state’s bridge office had not yet received documentation of TNC’s claims of lost time or an indication of how many days TNC will request.

“We’re thinking that the negotiations on this could take a month or more,” Cornish said.

Rob Carson: 253-597-8693