Whirley Defends Cville Bypass Cost Estimates

Virginia Highway Commissioner Gregory A. Whirley

by James A. Bacon

Virginia Highway Commissioner Gregory A. Whirley is sticking with his $197 million estimate for how much money it will take to complete the Charlottesville Bypass, although he acknowledges that the final bids could come in above or below that number. The estimate was called into question yesterday by the Charlottesville Albemarle Transportation Coalition (CATCO), a citizens group that had found a much higher estimate in a Freedom of Information Act request. (See the previous post for details.)

Addressing an article in Charlottesville Tomorrow that detailed the CATCO findings, Whirley explained to the Commonwealth Transportation Board today how the estimate was derived. The original estimate came from the Culpeper District staff. An engineer in the central office staff got wind of the estimate, thought it was too low and developed his own estimate. But the engineer was basing his estimate on an outdated design, the VDOT chief said. The thinking at the district level had evolved on how to cut costs, he said, so he stuck with the district estimate.

The central-office estimate inflated costs in two major ways, Whirley said. First, the engineer used used old plans for the interchanges at both ends of the bypass that the district staff thinks can be significantly simplified. Second, it assumes that the construction crew will have to remove large volumes of rock and dirt. But the excavation costs can be cut significantly by elevating the highway. “I reviewed it (the central-office estimate),” he told the CTB. “I felt that the Culpeper district engineering estimate was closer to the project we planned to build.”

Whirley also noted that even the Culpeper estimate is not based on the final design. VDOT is issuing a design-build RFP, which means that bidding firms will execute the final design with the goal of bringing down costs even more. The hope, says Whirley, is that the winning contractor will “bring his creativity to the table and just maybe find a better way.”

James E. Rich, the Culpeper District representative on the CTB, expressed umbrage at the fact that VDOT had not informed the board of the full range of estimates before it voted to allocate $197 million to complete the project. “I feel left out of the process. I don’t want to have to FOIA the department” to get a full briefing on transportation projects in his district. Rich said that he still is not confident that the board has access to the correct financial and technical data.

Transportation Secretary Connaughton acknowledged that VDOT needs to complete a “cultural shift” in how it approaches costs. He’s seen too many instances of the department gold-plating projects, spending far more money than necessary. But he predicted that the Charlottesville Bypass bids would come back “dramatically less” than the official estimate. He also assured CTB members that no final decision will be made without their participation. “The board will be given the opportunity to say if we should go forward with this project.”

This article was written thanks to a sponsorship of the Piedmont Environmental Council.

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4 responses to “Whirley Defends Cville Bypass Cost Estimates”

  1. you don’t want a road like that elevated in residential areas; the noise will have much more impact …and you’ll end up a lot more sound barriers.

  2. a major reason why you’d have a NEPA study is to look at the different options and get more up-to-date costs.

    all of this would go into making a decision. Pushing ahead without such information might satisfy those frustrated with delays but in the end -pushing ahead without good info will cost more and impact more…

  3. As far as I understand it, more delays will result in the eminent domain purchases which have already been made will be ended.

    In other words, after 20 years of study – delays = denial.

    And that’s just what the anti-progress crowd wants.

    Analysis / paralysis.

  4. I understand the problem but I also understand that how you elevate that road will have a big impact on money and noise.. and that design issue should be dealt with – with the design options and costs (money and noise) made available to the public.

    The state ALWAYS has the right to set deadlines and make decisions even if there is opposition but the public hearing process is an opportunity to get input and work with the folks effected for the best compromise.

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