- Associated Press - Monday, May 18, 2015

DENVER (AP) - Construction on the budget-busting Denver veterans hospital will stop if Congress doesn’t authorize more spending on the project within a week, the Veterans Affairs Department said Monday.

VA Secretary Robert McDonald told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee in a memo that his department has identified $150 million it could funnel to the project from this year’s budget to keep the work moving, but Congress must first raise the spending limit by $200 million to $1 billion.

The spending limit is separate from the $730 million the VA has asked Congress to appropriate to finish the project.

McDonald also told the committee the VA was willing to scale back the project, delaying construction of a nursing home and post-traumatic stress rehabilitation unit. His memo didn’t say how much money that would save.

If Congress doesn’t raise the spending limit by May 24, builder Kiewit-Turner will stop work, further delaying the project, McDonald said. Some subcontractors would likely refuse to return, causing even longer delays, he said.

Tom Janssen, a spokesman for Kiewit Corp., one of the partners in the joint venture building the hospital, confirmed that work would stop next week without congressional action. That would delay completion until 2018 instead of the current target of 2017, he said.

Kiewit-Turner has been working under an interim contract since December, when a panel of federal judges ruled the VA had breached the original contract. The judges said the VA failed to provide a plan that could be built for the contract price.

A new contract to finish the hospital is under negotiation.

The hospital under construction in the Denver suburb of Aurora is expected to cost $1.7 billion, nearly three times the estimate the VA gave last year. The VA has blamed a flawed design process, among other problems.

Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Ed Perlmutter, both Colorado Democrats, urged Congress to act quickly to avoid a shutdown.

Allowing the work to stop would be catastrophic. Perlmutter said. “We need to finish the damn thing,” he said.

Colorado Republican Rep. Mike Coffman said the VA’s proposal to redirect the $150 million from this year’s budget and delay the nursing home and PTSD clinic could be a first step toward finishing the project.

The new hospital will replace an old, crowded facility still in operation in Denver.

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Follow Dan Elliott at http://twitter.com/DanElliottAP

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