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Transportation News

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Ox Road Squeezes Past Budget Cuts - News - Springfield Connection - The Connection Newspapers

The Journal Newspapers Online

Arcom Publishing Inc. - Fairfax/Fairfax Station/Burke/Springfield/Annandale Times

An announcement by Virginia transportation officials on April 24 revealed that the Springfield Interchange project is well ahead of schedule and way over budget.
While the project is progressing ahead of schedule, the price tag on it has jumped to $585 million, an increase of about $75 million, since June 2000.

Charles "Chip" Nottingham, commissioner of the Virginia Department of Transportation, said a significant amount of work in the Route 644 area may be completed by Aug. 10, months ahead of schedule.  He also said Phase V of the project was advertised for bid Tuesday and should be under way this summer.  That phase, originally scheduled to begin in the fall, extends eastbound to the Capital Beltway across Interstate 395 and adds two loops to the I-95, I-395 and I-495 interchange.

Nottingham said the latest cost estimate reflects a 3-percent increase over an estimate made last fall; however, that depends on which estimate is used as a comparison.  While Nottingham said the fall 2000 estimate was $567 million, VDOT announced in September 2000 that the estimate was $540 million. At that time, officials provided a breakdown of a June 2000 estimate at $509 million; the $567 million figure was an October update.

In addition, the final phase of the project, which would add HOV ramps to connect to future HOV lanes on the Capital Beltway, was eliminated. This phase was estimated at $40 million and, by eliminating it, should save the project that amount of money.

So, while it may be a 3-percent increase over the October 2000 estimate, it's 8 percent more than September's $540 million estimate and 15 percent more than June's $509 million figure.  Since 1994, the project's cost has skyrocketed 79 percent from its initial estimate of $350 million.

The original estimate did not include an inflation factor, accounting for some of the additional cost. And extra sound walls and traffic mitigation steps have been implemented.  Joan Morris, spokeswoman for VDOT, said people need to be aware that gas, labor and supply prices fluctuate, making estimates difficult.

"When you've got a mega-year project like this, there's no way you can say what the bull's-eye target will be," she said, adding that the agency is working to improve that ability. "We've done lots of things internally to make sure we get better numbers."

Nottingham said he thought the $567 million figure was pretty close to final but would need some small adjustments during the remaining five years of construction.  "These are estimates that will be refined as we complete the engineering, complete the right-of-way acquisition," Morris said, adding that those totals are hard to nail down. "Those costs can change."

Nottingham attributes the 3-percent rise to increased construction, engineering and inspection (CEI) costs. These costs were estimated at 8 percent of the total project cost; however, they have now increased to 13 percent.

"We have encouraged inspectors to be out on the project all the time," Nottingham said. This increases the price but secures safety and constant surveillance, he said.  There have been no safety problems or major construction accidents to date, Nottingham said.

Lee District Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D) declined to comment on the increased estimate. He did not attend Tuesday's briefing.

Phase II, which includes work on the mainline of I-95, including 12 new bridges, is on track for early completion, Nottingham said. A $10 million bonus is promised if the contractor stays on this accelerated schedule, the largest early completion bonus in Virginia history, Nottingham said.  Earlier this month, the sound wall protecting homes along Cabin John Road from I-95 was removed, exposing the homes to interstate noise and traffic views. The project calls for shifting I-95 slightly west, closer to the homes.  Chuck Smith, Shirley Contracting contract manager for Phase IV, said the new wall should be completed in February and the road shift by summer 2002.

Nottingham said VDOT has followed through with its commitment to keep Springfield "open for business" during construction.  "We will not close lanes during rush hours," he reaffirmed.  The project is now scheduled for completion in spring 2007.