Contractors are supposed to be familiar with the site and any conditions that may impactlarge tubes the project. AIA contracts typically include the contractor’s obligation to become familiar with the site. Yet, time and time again, site conditions cause delays and other problems on the project. The contractor on the  Seattle Tunnel project appears to be having a site condition issue on the project.

Some of you may have seen all the footage of Bertha, a 57.5 foot diameter tunnel boring machine brought in to dig the tunnel for Route 99. Everything was going well until Bertha ran into a 50 foot, 8 inch diameter steel pipe. Apparently, Bertha was made to chew through rock, dirt and concrete, not steel pipes.

Not surprisingly, Bertha slowed down, perhaps after breaking a few teeth on the pipe. And, now the engineers are trying to figure out what else is blocking the way—more pipe or a really, really big rock.

Of course, the slowdown also started the finger pointing. The Washington DOT issued a press release claiming that the location of the pipe was disclosed in reference materials in the contract and that the DOT assumed the pipe had been removed before construction began. No one on the construction side is saying that they didn’t know about the pipe. Bertha’s Twitter page is only saying Bertha hopes to be moving again soon.

So, now we have a delayed project caused by a pipe that everyone knew about or should have known about. This sounds like the beginning of a big problem.