Olympia — A key Republican lawmaker said Friday that a consultant hired by the state's Department of Transportation to review three large transportation projects has a conflict of interest. Sen. Curtis King of Yakima, co-chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, said the choice of Ron Paananen to lead a review of the Alaskan Way Viaduct project, the State Route 520 Bridge replacement and the Columbia River Crossing project should be reconsidered.
King notes that Paananen worked on two of the projects as a Department of Transportation administrator before entering the private sector in 2011 and says that his consultancy is receiving $2.4 million for work on the Columbia River Crossing.
"That is a clear conflict of interest," King said.
King added that he does not question Paananen's expertise.
Jaime Smith, spokeswoman for Gov. Jay Inslee, said that Paananen is tasked with reviewing the department's "internal processes" and not with looking at the projects themselves.
Paananen "has the technical expertise to lead such a review, and it's because of his expertise and record of managing these kinds of projects that we feel he'll help move (the Department of Transportation) down the path that Senator King, the Governor and the public want," Smith said in a written statement.
Last month, the Department of Transportation admitted that mistakes in the construction of pontoons that will make up the new floating State Route 520 Bridge led to cracking that could in turn allow water inside them. Repairs will cost in the tens of millions of dollars, then-Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond said at the time.
Paananen was hired Thursday by current Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson, who was appointed last month by Inslee.
According to a Department of Transportation statement announcing Paananen's hire Thursday, his review will lead to recommendations to "clarify lines of decision making and allow quick dispute resolution to provide cost-effective project delivery."
The review is scheduled to be completed by Sept. 30.
Department of Transportation Megaproject Strategic Director Ron Judd did not immediately return a call seeking comment.