DOT boss admits to Tacoma viaduct errors

Nalley Valley: Misaligned segments will cost nearly $1M

June 29, 2010 

The state transportation secretary said Monday she and her staff could have done a better job communicating on the complicated Nalley Valley Viaduct project and acknowledged that a nearly $1 million mistake that went public over the weekend has hurt the credibility of her department.

“I know we missed some steps” in the design review process, Department of Transportation chief Paula Hammond told The News Tribune. She added that the blame for designing and building an offramp in the wrong place “goes up and down the agency.”

Officials say its will cost $890,000 to fix the misplaced ramp from eastbound state Route 16, which will connect to elevated bridges and cross the highway to Sprague Avenue. Work began Friday, attracting the notice of the public and news media.

DOT officials say it won’t delay completion of the westbound portion of the viaduct project, slated for fall 2011.

“We have tried very hard as an agency to make sure accountability works both ways,” Hammond said. “You tell the good and you tell the bad. This obviously is something we have not done right. And it is something we are going to fix.”

On June 3, Hammond and Kevin Dayton, administrator for the Olympic region which includes Pierce County, met with News Tribune reporters and editors to talk about the project and its progress.

No mention was made of the design mistake on the eastbound side.

The DOT secretary reports directly to Gov. Chris Gregoire, and Hammond said the governor asked her why news of the design error and fix was such a surprise to the public.

A spokesman for the governor told the newspaper Monday that the governor had no comment and referred questions to Hammond.

Hammond and Dayton outlined Monday a number of factors that contributed to the breakdown in the design review process and internal communication.

Two design teams were working on the viaduct project: one for the westbound lanes and one for the yet-to-be-bid eastbound lanes.

Back in 2007-08, the eastbound team made a change to its design to add a third lane of traffic between Union and Sprague avenues – an exit-only lane that would lead to the Sprague ramp.

The westbound team, however, was unaware of the addition of a third lane. They went ahead and built the eastbound ramp, Dayton said, with the hope of speeding up the reopening of the Sprague exit by at least two years.

About that time, Hammond said the project manager also died unexpectedly in an accident.

In addition, engineers were transferred from the Nalley Valley project to the Fife HOV-lane project on Interstate 5.

“The result is we weren’t doing the check, check and double checks.” Hammond said. “The people going about checking missed it.”

In November, Dayton said design engineers were inspecting when they found the new off ramp was 12 feet out of alignment with the proposed exit lane.

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