Lars Erickson, WSDOT communications, 360-789-6463 (mobile)
SEATTLE – More teeth in contracts and more eyes on contractors. Those were two of several remedies unveiled by the Washington State Department of Transportation on Wednesday, as the agency answered claims that the contractor building the State Route 99 tunnel created barriers and hardships for disadvantaged firms seeking work on the project.
WSDOT will make sweeping changes to its Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBE) program, including an agency-wide directive to produce construction contracts that better define and enforce each project’s DBE requirements. The agency will also strongly encourage prime contractors to offer subcontracts that are more feasible for smaller firms. Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson and her assistant secretaries will play a more direct role in oversight of the program.
"Fairness is an essential part of everything we do at WSDOT," Peterson said. "It's something we take very seriously, and we're committed to doing everything we can to create more opportunities for disadvantaged firms on our projects."
Construction projects that are built using federal funds must use certified disadvantaged businesses to complete some of the work. WSDOT sets individual project goals for contractors to use certified businesses owned by women and minorities. Goals are based on formulas that consider the type of project work; the location and size of the project; and the availability of ready, willing and able disadvantaged businesses to perform work on the project.
As part of their contract, WSDOT's contractor for the tunnel project, Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP), is responsible for ensuring that a minimum of 8 percent or $91 million of work associated with the project is performed by certified disadvantaged businesses. STP has reported $55 million in contracts to 79 certified DBE firms. Of this amount, $20 million is being counted toward the DBE contract requirement.
WSDOT has taken action in recent months to help create more opportunities for DBE firms on the tunnel project and throughout the agency. In July, the agency hired a consultant, Bruce Watts and Associates, to study and make recommendations about the tunnel project, as well as the agency’s DBE program.
Earlier this month, FHWA released a report in response to a complaint about DBE utilization on the tunnel project. FHWA concluded that STP created barriers and hardships for DBE firms seeking work on the project. FHWA also found WSDOT noncompliant for inadequate oversight of STP’s effort to meet the project’s 8 percent DBE contract goal.
Richard Mitchell, a Seattle attorney, has been hired to provide an independent third-party review of FHWA's findings and the documents used during the investigation. When his review is complete, Mitchell will recommend steps WSDOT can take to address the issues raised in the report.
For more information about the SR 99 Tunnel Project, part of the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program, visit www.alaskanwayviaduct.org.