Who pays for Bertha's $149 million cost overruns? Ask the lawyers

SEATTLE -- It's not the destination -- it's the journey.

Or maybe it's the invoice for hundreds of dollars an hour for legal advice.

The legal battle over the estimated $149 million cost overruns for the Bertha tunnel-boring machine - which is set to break through Tuesday morning - are inching closer to a resolution that sometimes feel as slow as the ol' girl herself.

The state has made it clear that it believes the overruns should not be laid at the foot of the taxpayer. Sort of a "we bought it - you broke it" message to Seattle Tunnel Partners, the contractor consortium behind Bertha. STP is the target of seven lawsuits, battling above ground over what happened below.

The core of this relates to that eight-inch pipe that was left behind during soil testing pre-Bertha.

STP tried to sue the Washington State Department of Transportation for the Bertha damage, yet a Thurston County judge shot them down, saying STP waived its rights in the massive contract.

STP sued the soil test contractor in January, saying it didn't take the pipe out or tell anybody that it was eight inches of steel pipe instead of PVC plastic. That case is pending.

The state says its court wins have saved taxpayers $79 million, but the fight isn't over. Without settlements or direct evidence that WSDOT did wrong, the state believes the fault is on STP and Bertha being unable to do the job - 8-inch pipe or otherwise.

Some of these cases are set to get underway next year and all the lawyers on all sides are staying mum on the record.

But once the new State Route 99 is open, the traffic will back up - in court.