WSDOT will not reject leaking 520 Bridge pontoons

WSDOT will not reject leaking 520 Bridge pontoons
SEATTLE -- Leaks have been discovered inside some of the pontoons destined for the new 520 Bridge, but the Washington Department of Transportation says it will not reject them.

A Problem Solvers investigation first revealed the leaks and the fact that some insiders say the pontoons are in no shape to carry 10,000 cars every day.

WSDOT officials confirmed there are still some leaks within the four biggest pontoons, and on Wednesday they allowed media members inside one of the pontoons to see for themselves.

Inside Pontoon V -- one of the 360-foot-long floating concrete structures that will hold up the 520 Bridge -- white lines show where contractor Kiewit made prior repairs to fill in cracks and stop any leaks.

The two cells -- or interior compartments -- that were part of Wednesday's media tour were mostly dry, though there is evidence that there are still some leaks.

WSDOT officials say one leak in the pontoon was actually from a cell next door where there's water intentionally placed for ballast, and they say once that water is removed the small crack won't be a problem.

"If it has that amount of leaking, it's not going to harm the integrity of the structure," said program director Julie Meredith.

An October Problem Solvers investigation revealed that all six of the first pontoons were leaking. Some of WSDOT's own engineers questioned the construction quality of the pontoons and, in some cases, would not structurally approve pontoons that were missing some key steel re-bar pieces.

On Wednesday, WSDOT officials admitted that the four largest pontoons are still leaking from their shorter end walls.

"Now we've brought an expert on to take a look at the cracks we're seeing and to come up with a repair that we believe is going to last the lifetime of the structure," said WSDOT's Jeff Carpenter.

Meanwhile, work is progressing as one of those leaking pontoon -- Pontoon W -- is now anchored on the east side of Lake Washington and Kiewit is building on top of it.

Two engineers with expertise in floating bridges say the state should scrap the first pontoons, but on Wednesday WSDOT made it clear that would not happen.

"We do not anticipate anything in this work on-going that would mean that we would reject these pontoons," Meredith said.

A newly-hired crack-repair contractor is doing underwater inspections of the pontoons and expects to start work on the actual repairs after the first of the year.