- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2001

Another increase in the Mixing Bowls construction costs will likely delay other transportation projects in Virginia, the states transportation commissioner said yesterday.
"Anytime the project grows in cost, it raises the possibility that … a future project may get pushed back in time," Virginia Department of Transportation Commissioner Charles D. "Chip" Nottingham told The Washington Times.
At an event in Springfield hosted by VDOT, Mr. Nottingham announced to a group of business, government and community leaders yesterday that the cost estimate of the seven-phase project has gone up again by 3 percent, or $17.5 million — pushing the latest figure to $585 million. But the project is at least nine months ahead of schedule, he said.
Extra funds needed to cover the increased estimate "wont come from Northern Virginia per se" and would most likely come from the postponement or redesign of other projects throughout the state, he said, although he did not offer any specific projects where VDOT would look for extra funds.
Calling the interchange-improvement project VDOTs No. 1 priority, Mr. Nottingham said VDOT will do "whatever it takes" to finish the project by its scheduled completion in 2007.
When finished, the new Mixing Bowl — which links Interstates 495, 395 and 95 — will have 24 lanes at its widest point, 30 ramps, 41 miles of roadway and 50 bridges.
The most recent increase, is the fourth since VDOT began construction two years ago based on a 1994 estimate of $350 million. Last June, VDOT officials said the project would balloon to $509 million; in September, it went up to $540 million; and in November, the estimate had climbed to $567 million.
"We are at the mercy of the marketplace," Mr. Nottingham said after the event, adding he is confident the latest number will stick.
VDOT has been under fire in recent years amid accusations of mismanagement, and Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, requested a federal investigation into cost overruns on the Mixing Bowl. The findings are expected to be released this summer.
Mr. Nottingham said increased costs stem from skyrocketing fuel costs, inflation and a jump in the cost of inspections, which is due in part to work being done more quickly.
Shirley Contracting stands to pocket a $10 million bonus — already budgeted for in the latest $585 million figure — if it finishes Phases 2 and 3 by November, months ahead of their June 2002 deadline, Mr. Nottingham said.
Phase 4 is now under way, with work going on north of the Mixing Bowl on the I-495 section. The Capital Beltway section is the "heart" of the project and could cause serious traffic disruptions, he warned. But as with other sections of the construction, Mr. Nottingham said, VDOT will not close lanes during morning and evening rush hours, on weekends, or on holidays. Construction on Phase 4 is expected to be complete by 2003.
Costs for the project could go up again this summer when contracts for Phase 5 are awarded, with construction starting in the fall. And another $10 million in incentives for contractors to finish phases 4, 5, 6 and 7 has not been budgeted, he said.
There were mixed reviews on the announcement and VDOTs reform efforts from state legislators, many of whom say they are cautiously optimistic VDOT is on the right path.
"I was delighted to hear the project was ahead of schedule," said state Sen. Linda T. "Toddy" Puller, Fairfax Democrat. "I think they have changed the way they do business."
Mrs. Puller, who attended yesterdays event, said VDOT is being much more upfront about the cost overruns, but she cautioned the beleaguered transportation department needs to ensure it balances the road building needs for the rest of the state while not taking any money away from Northern Virginia.
Delegate John A. "Jack" Rollison III, Prince William Republican and co-chairman of the House of Delegates Transportation Committee, said he will continue to fight off attempts by legislators in other parts of the state to take away Northern Virginia transportation funding due to the Mixing Bowls cost overruns.
"I am more than willing to make the case for the Springfield interchange," said Mr. Rollison, who also attended the event.
Mr. Rollison said the reforms Gov. James S. Gilmore III has promulgated, including better ways of managing the project and factoring in inflation costs into the estimate, seem to have helped lessen the blow in this round of interchange budget updates.
House of Delegates Minority Leader C. Richard Cranwell said the more costs go up for the Mixing Bowl, the less money the rest of the state, including Northern Virginia, will have for other transportation projects.
"I knew all along we were going to take a beating for that project," said Mr. Cranwell, Roanoke Democrat. "I think all of us are suffering. They are going to have to find the money from somewhere."

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