Cville Bypass Bids Come in Under $244 Million Estimate… Or Maybe Not

Photo credit: The Hook

The low bid for the Charlottesville Bypass, submitted by Virginia Beach Skanska- Branch/JMT, came in below cost estimates, says the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), as reported by Charlottesville Tomorrow Friday. “Based on the apparent low bids all project costs are within the allocated amount in the Six-Year Improvement Program,” said Lou Hatter, spokesman for VDOT’s Culpeper District.

But foes of the controversial bypass say the cost will exceed official estimates. “The Virginia Department of Transportation opened the bids from contractors to build the Charlottesville Western Bypass–which ranged between $18 million and $96 million higher than VDOT’s estimated construction costs as best as we can determine based upon the very limited information we have received from the agency at this time,” said Jeff Werner, Albemarle and Charlottesville land use officer for the Piedmont Environmental Council in a press release.

Moreover, said Werner, the public still doesn’t know what it’s getting for its money. The bids are based on preliminary designs that haven’t been made public yet. The designs submitted by bidders under the design-build project may vary significantly from the sketches displayed by VDOT during public hearings.

Last year, the Commonwealth Transportation Board voted to allocate an additional $197.4 million to the bypass, a sum that would cover construction, design and additional right-of-way acquisition. The CTB approved the sum unaware of controversy inside VDOT over how much the project would cost. The McDonnell administration later acknowledged that the original design might have to be modified but contended that there was ample cushion thanks to efficiencies resulting from the design-build process and a track record of construction bids coming in below estimate in recent years.

The total cost of the project, including money spent on engineering and right-of-way, is estimated to be $244.5 million. Of that amount, reports Sean Tubbs for Charlottesville Tomorrow, VDOT had set aside $125.6 million for additional engineering and construction. Skanska’s bid was $136 million, or seemingly $10 million higher. (The highest bidder submitted a bid of $214 million.)

It was not clear from Tubb’s story how VDOT could claim that the Skanska bid came in below estimate. Nor was it clear from its press release how the PEC calculated an $18 million cost overrun. The issue is of more than academic importance. If the project cost exceeds the amount allocated by the CTB, the McDonnell administration might have to go back before the board and request additional funds. Getting approval might not be so easy second time around, given all the events that have transpired in the past 10 months.

Werner said the bids did not include several important elements, including landscaping, noise mitigation for neighborhoods and schools, and other adjustments as may be required by an environmental assessment that is not yet complete.

If I can sort out the issues, I’ll follow up with another blog post.


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  1. larryg Avatar

    the most striking and disturbing thing – actually two – about this is:

    1. – the purposeful avoidance of showing the affected communities the design

    2. – playing games with the cost of the project and who is going to pay for it

    this project is undoubtedly going to have significant impacts on the residential areas it goes through and sound walls are going to be mandatory most of it’s length.

    this is why people do not trust VDOT. If we changed the law to say that the LOCALITY had to carry out the eminent domain – elected officials on the hook – what would happen?

    We have all this high and mighty talk about “liberty” and “small govt” and when it comes down to it – we delegate ED to unelected faceless bureaucrats that make a mockery of the entire idea of transparency and accountability of government.

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