- Associated Press - Friday, October 9, 2015

SEATTLE (AP) - The state of Washington on Friday sued the contractor building the troubled $3.1 billion tunnel replacement project for Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct.

The Department of Transportation said in a statement that it filed the lawsuit against Seattle Tunnel Partners in King County Superior Court to preserve its legal rights in what is expected to be messy future court battles over the tunnel project that is more than two years behind schedule.

Transportation spokeswoman Laura Newborn said the legal action was taken following court filings by STP and its insurance companies.

“Filing this lawsuit ensures WSDOT will have a right to make legal claims in the future,” Newborn said. “The intent of today’s action is simple: protect the interests of Washington taxpayers.”

Under the terms of the contract, the tunnel contractor, STP, is not allowed to publicly comment without permission from the Department of Transportation.

Bertha, the machine digging the tunnel, broke down in December 2013, and crews have been struggling to repair it ever since. The four-lane toll tunnel was supposed to open to traffic at the end of 2015. It is now scheduled to open in March 2018.

Earlier this week the Department of Transportation said it expected to lose $78 million because Bertha broke down. The additional money reflects extra spending on administrators, engineers, consulting firms and office space.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages because of the delays caused by the breakdown of the tunnel boring machine.

Newborn said the state would ask that its lawsuit be stayed until the 2-mile tunnel project is completed. She said it was hoped the contractor would also agree to delay legal action until that time.

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