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Tue December 05 2023

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Court finds against Tutor Perini and Dragados USA following TBM breakdown

16 Dec 19 A US court case centring on the two-year breakdown of a tunnel boring machine (TBM) called Bertha has found in favour of the client.

Berthan achieved breakthrough in April 2017
Berthan achieved breakthrough in April 2017

The Washington State has been awarded damages because of the delays to the project; the amount is reported to be US$57.2m (£42.9m).

Tutor Perini, which built the project in joint venture with Dragados USA, said that it will appeal the verdict, which it said conflicts with the findings of an independent dispute review board.

Bertha – said to be the world's largest earth pressure balance tunnel boring machine – was used to digging the SR 99 tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct in the state of Washington. The tunnel was built by Seattle Tunnel Partners (STB), a joint venture of Dragados USA and Tutor Perini. The TBM was built by Hitachi Zosen Sakai Works in Japan.

In December 2013, STP stopped mining after measuring increased temperatures in the TBM. After an investigation, damage was discovered to the machine’s main bearing. Crews completed repairs and resumed mining in December 2015. Work continued for a month or so, but was then halted before restarting in late April 2016. Bertha reached her dismantling pit in April 2017.

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Washington governor Jay Inslee welcomed the court verdict. “The opening of the SR 99 tunnel and the demolition of the Alaskan Way Viaduct were transformative for Seattle. Hundreds of workers, including the SR 99 tunnel contractor, deserve our thanks for the herculean effort it took to repair the tunneling machine and finish the SR 99 tunnel. Some wanted to abandon this project, but we should be thankful Washington persisted in the face of difficulties. We never wavered from our position that it was always the contractor’s responsibility to fix the tunnelling machine and that taxpayers should not pay the repair bill. We are grateful the jury agreed and awarded damages to taxpayers for a tunnel delivered three years behind schedule."

Secretary of transportation Roger Millar added that Washington State Department of Transportation is committed to protecting taxpayer money. “Knowing the risks associated with tunnelling beneath downtown Seattle, we structured our contract with Seattle Tunnel Partners in a way that placed the risks of tunnelling on the contractor. We have remained steadfast in our belief that Seattle Tunnel Partners was responsible for the costs of fixing the broken tunnelling machine and paying damages for completing the tunnel three years late. We believe the jury got it right and we are grateful for their patience and dedication to ensuring a fair outcome to this case. Since an appeal is possible, we  

The Seattle Times reports the verdict against the tunnel contractors in Thurston County Superior Court in Olympia represents the entire amount the state requested.

Tutor Perini has released a statement in reaction to a jury verdict in favour of Washington State Department of Transportation. “Tutor Perini is disappointed with the jury’s decision and will appeal the verdict in this case, which conflicts directly with the findings of an independent Dispute Review Board’s (DRB) proceedings that were conducted over the course of the project, including a key finding by the DRB that the steel pipe casing unexpectedly encountered by the tunnel boring machine constituted a ‘differing site condition’. Over the past several years, Tutor Perini has consistently asserted that the Company (through its 45% participation in STP) is owed compensation for substantial costs incurred as a result of that unexpected encounter and the subsequent delays and repairs that ensued. The Company is reviewing today’s decision to evaluate any potential financial impact on the Company and will provide any required disclosure once that evaluation has been completed. A separate court trial in King County, Washington pertaining to the pursuit of associated claims against insurance policies that covered the project is expected to occur in the latter part of next year or in 2021.”

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