Blog Ipsa Loquitur

Published on under Procurement Hell

David Roberts has an entertaining read on the tunnel construction project in Seattle. The city needs to replace its outdated and crumbling elevated highway, called the Viaduct.

It’s remarkable how disastrous virtually every step of the tunnel has been, including the decision to build a tunnel to replace the Viaduct in the first place. As Roberts writes, Seattle has essentially three options for the Viaduct:

  1. Replace it with a new elevated highway.

  2. Replace it — at least the part of it that goes through the downtown core — with a giant tunnel that would be covered over to allow downtown to connect with the waterfront.

  3. Don’t replace it with a highway at all. In its place, create a walkable waterfront with a modest four-lane street. To accommodate traffic overflow, add transit upgrades and street improvements in the surrounding area.

The third, “surface/transit” option was the cheapest and most in line with smart green urbanism. Naturally, Seattle VSPs ignored it entirely.

The whole thing is beyond flabbergasting. It gets worse and worse the longer you read. But Roberts had even more to add yesterday about the poorly planned and executed tunnel project. He writes:

[Seattle hired an expert on tunnels who] warned that the project was “beyond precedent,” with the largest single-bore dig ever taking place in “the worst geologic environment I’ve ever seen,” beneath the water table, under considerable water pressure, through highly varied soil conditions.

It’s good to know that it’s not just IT procurement in this country that’s broken. The bit that surprises me the most about Seattle’s problem: there seems to have been a lot of research and really smart writing done before the project. For every item in the parade of horribles that Roberts writes about, some expert warned Seattle that it was going to happen. I hope that some day these experts are the ones making decisions instead of the ones being ignored.