A Thurston County jury on Dec. 13 awarded $57.2 million in liquidated damages to the Washington State Dept. of Transportation in a dispute between the agency and contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners, a joint venture between Dragados USA and Tutor Perini Corp., over a multi-year shutdown of the State Route 99 tunneling project under downtown Seattle after the Hitachi Zosen-made Bertha tunnel-boring machine broke down in December 2013.
The tunneling project, which completed in February 2019, three years behind schedule, began in July 2013. Bertha, a 57.5-ft-dia tunnel-boring machine (TBM) overheated and damaged the main bearing seals after hitting an 8-in. steel pipe. The repair required an 80-ft-wide, 120-ft-deep shaft to bring machine parts to the surface. It was a two-year fix. STP sought reimbursement for repair costs and delays and WSDOT sued for a breach of the design-build contract over missing completion deadlines. STP countersued, saying the location of the well pipe wasn’t disclosed. STP filed for $642 million from WSDOT for repair costs and damages, but that number was revised to $330 million ahead of the Oct. 7 trial start date.
During court proceedings, STP admitted it did know about the well, but forgot to mitigate its location before tunneling. The Thurston County judge sided with WSDOT.
Roger Millar, WSDOT secretary, said in a statement that the contract was structured to place known risks associated with the tunneling on the contractor. “We believe the jury got it right,” he said, but noted an appeal is still possible.
During the trial, WSDOT lawyer David Goodnight of Stoel Rives LLP told ENR they were eager to get to trial to seek the full $57.2 million in a verdict. Lawyers for STP did not respond to requests for comment.
STP’s lawsuit against Hitachi-Zosen was settled out of court. Terms were not disclosed.