- Associated Press - Thursday, February 27, 2014

SEATTLE (AP) - The stalled Highway 99 tunnel under downtown Seattle could be late but still meet its budget, the governor’s expert review panel said Thursday in a report.

The 43-page document predicts the four-lane tube will be completed in the first half of 2016 and open by mid-November, The Seattle Times reported (http://bit.ly/1fX7PLQ).

Costs shouldn’t overrun the overall $3.1 billion for the project to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct, the experts said.

“The ERP continues to be confident that the project is on course to be successfully completed,” the report said.

It warned that strained relations between the state Transportation Department and the contractor, Seattle Tunnel Partners, could be a problem.

But project administrator Todd Trepanier told reporters in a conference call Thursday afternoon that they had open lines of communication with the contractor, although there were difficult issues.

The department expected to meet with the contractor Friday to hear how long it would take to repair the damaged boring machine and resume tunneling. Another department official said earlier it would be months before the machine named Bertha is moving again.

The expert review panel was created to assess the viaduct replacement project’s financing and assure that schedules, risks and management are reasonable.

The tunnel portion of the project is budgeted at $1.4 billion. At a news briefing Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee said the state needs to continue to be a “vigorous and insistent customer” of Seattle Tunnel Partners.

“They have a legal obligation to finish this tunnel on-time and under-budget,” Inslee said.

Meanwhile, work continues on the project to reroute Highway 99.

Workers have already started reconfiguring the pit used last summer to launch the boring machine. The pit near the waterfront and the Mariners and Seahawks stadiums will become a covered section of highway tunnel.

Crews also are starting work this weekend for future tunnel connections to city streets near what is now the south end of the Battery Street tunnel, not far from the Seattle Center.

Bertha ground to a halt in the first week of December about 1,000 feet into the 1.7-mile tunnel route.

The seals surround the main bearing are broken and have to repaired or replaced. The work will likely involve digging an access shaft.

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