- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2001

Construction on the Springfield Interchange is ahead of schedule, but its cost estimates are rising again, Virginia transportation officials said yesterday.
A source in the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) said the current construction estimate of $567 will likely increase by another $20 million. It would be the fourth estimate increase since 1999, when construction began to upgrade the juncture for Interstates 495, 395 and 95, commonly known as the Mixing Bowl.
At a news conference today in Springfield, VDOT Commissioner Charles D. "Chip" Nottingham is scheduled to announce the estimate increase and celebrate the seven-phase project being nine months ahead of schedule.
"I wish we could control the costs better," Mr. Nottingham said yesterday.
While not giving a firm figure, Mr. Nottingham said he expects the estimated cost increase to be less than 5 percent, or $28 million, over current projections.
VDOT originally estimated that the eight-year project would cost about $350 million in 1994, and it stuck with that figure when it began construction in March 1999.
Over the past two years, the costs have skyrocketed. In June, VDOT priced out the project at $509 million, although that number soon jumped two more times until the latest figure —$567 million — was released in November.
Some of the cost increases, Mr. Nottingham said, are beyond VDOTs control.
"Much of it is driven by the marketplace," he said, noting increased fuel prices and inflation. "It is more expensive than we thought. We are doing our best to control costs."
One factor that played a role in the higher estimate this time, Mr. Nottingham said, was that VDOT had not accounted for a jump in the cost of inspections, which primarily have occurred because the project is ahead of schedule.
Mr. Nottingham said the Springfield Interchange is VDOTs "No. 1 priority," adding that funds will be cut from some other transportation projects to cover rising costs in the Mixing Bowl project, to which the federal government will contribute about $500 million.
More than 500,000 cars travel through the Mixing Bowl each weekday.
Phases 2 and 3 of the project, which include installing 15 bridges along I-95 and work on Route 644, could be finished as early as November, with the contractors getting a $10 million bonus for finishing the phases. Those two phases are scheduled to be complete by June 2002.
Phase 4, the heart of the project on the Capital Beltway, is ongoing. Contracts for Phase 5 — which includes work on part of eastbound Beltway — are expected to be awarded by summer, Mr. Nottingham said, with construction starting in the fall. The other two phases — installing ramps on I-95 and improving I-395 southbound and the HOV roadway — will begin in 2003 and be completed by spring 2007, he said.
Phase 1, which connected I-95 northbound to Spring Mall Drive, was completed in 1997, two years before the larger project.
Two state legislators said they are concerned the cost increases will never end and wonder where the money will come from to pay for the increases.
"I just think that they have got to get this thing under control," said Delegate Vincent F. Callahan, Fairfax Republican and co-chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
"They obviously will have to take it from someplace else, and that does concern me. They have got to get their act together," he said.
Delegate Brian J. Moran, Alexandria Democrat, said VDOT is just letting the real picture of the projects actual cost "trickle out," so the cost estimates dont look so bad.
"There should be some flexibility built in the project, but when it is twice the cost, it should be scrutinized," said U.S. Rep.
James P. Moran Jr., Virginia Democrat. The U.S. Department of Transportations Inspector Generals Office is investigating VDOT and its management of the interchange project. The federal scrutiny was prompted by Mr. Moran, who requested the review last summer after VDOT said it had kept local members of Congress and state legislators in the dark for several years about the final tally.
Both Mr. Nottingham and Mr. Callahan said laws recently signed by Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III, as well as recommendations made by the governors commission on transportation policy, should help better manage the interchange project.
"Im not going to sit here and tell you its not a problem and its not going to be expensive," Mr. Nottingham said of the cost increases, " we are in the middle of a sea change in attitude and philosophy at VDOT … weve got to remain vigilant."


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