WSDOT’s Highway 99 tunnel administrator to help run California’s bullet-train project

Joe Hedges will be paid $337,008 as chief operating officer at the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

California’s high-speed rail program has snapped up Joe Hedges, the laid-back administrator at Washington state’s nearly completed Highway 99 tunnel bypassing downtown Seattle.

Hedges, 57, has more than 30 years of construction experience, which includes Navy projects overseas, and engineering at the Oak Ridge, Tennessee, federal nuclear facilities.

He will be paid $337,008 as chief operating officer at the California High-Speed Rail Authority, said an announcement Friday by California Gov. Jerry Brown. That’s almost twice his salary of about $180,000 at the Washington State Department of Transportation.

Hedges came to Seattle in April 2016, just missing the most turbulent phase of the $2.1 billion, four-lane Highway 99 excavation. The giant tunnel-boring machine Bertha had just finished a risky repair operation, and would ultimately reach daylight on April 4, 2017, at South Lake Union.

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Hedges encouraged contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP) to take maintenance breaks rather than risk eroding the cutters. Behind the scenes, he urged STP to review its safety policies following a string of injuries, “to be focused [on] safety improvement and teamwork; NOT finding critical fault,” an internal email says.

He made a habit of publicly praising STP for steady progress, notwithstanding cost disputes of up to $600 million. He would proclaim “a beautiful day” at news events.

“I believe this — you have to define yourself in the future and not in the past. Learn in hard spots and apply that to the future. Understand that even in some of the worst cases, we’re very blessed,” he said Friday afternoon.

The tunnel is expected to open for traffic this fall, three years…

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