Devil’s Slide tunnels’ estimate increases — again 

Construction of the Devil’s Slide bypass tunnels connecting the coastside communities of Montara and Pacific will cost $72 million more than originally estimated.

The cost overrun puts the total price of the project at $272 million, up 13 percent from the most recent estimate of about $240 million, Caltrans spokesman John Cunliff said.

"What Caltrans produces is just an estimate and comes with a plus/minus range," Cunliff said, explaining the difference. He was unaware of exactly what factors were behind the increase.

The increase comes on top of an earlier revision that increased the estimated cost for boring the two parallel tunnels from $200 million to $240 million, according to Caltrans, which is overseeing the project.

The federal government will pick up the tab for the project after the tunnels were declared emergency repair work following several closures to Highway 1 at Devil’s Slide in past years after landslides.

The highway closure separated many residents from work or home and severely strained some business during the four-month closure, said Charise McHugh, president and CEO of the Half Moon Bay Coastside Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau.

County Supervisor Rich Gordon, who worked closely with Caltrans during the Highway 1 closure last year, said he wasn’t surprised by the cost overrun. "I haven’t seen a construction project in the last several years that hasn’t come in higher than was expected," Gordon said.

Such overruns have often been due to the high cost of concrete and steel as development in countries such as China and India creates a tighter market and higher demand, Gordon said.

The upside is that the work, by Kiewit Pacific, will take less time to complete. The boring will be finished in about three and a half years, allowing the tunnels to open up in the fall of 2010, rather than the projected 2011 opening, Cunliff said.

Excavation of the tunnels is due to begin in August, but preparation work began last week. Kiewit is working to install a 260,000-gallon tank to hold and funnel runoff water to the ocean to prevent road damage, Cunliff said.

A retaining wall will also be constructed in the comingweeks on the ocean side and the highway slightly rerouted to accommodate that work, Cunliff said.

"Motorists should not be impacted during this first [construction] phase," Cunliff said.

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