VDOT officials underestimate Mixing Bowl price

News December 03, 2002
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Big projects continue to grow out of control in the U

Big projects continue to grow out of control in the U.S. According to an audit issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation's inspector general, Virginia's "Mixing Bowl" road project is reaching a $1 billion price tag. Back in 1994, the state's Commonwealth Transportation Board chose a $241 million design for the Springfield Interchange. Today the job is now up to $676 million and the cost continues to rise. The pattern reflects the one taking by Boston's "Big Dig", which received national ridicule for overspending.

The audit listed four key changes behind the fiscal adjustment:

* VDOT added more ramps from the interchange to Franconia and Old Keene Mill roads. The project grew to include the widening of Loisdale Road and Commerce Street (added cost: $30 million);

* Public demands for more noise walls were heeded, and bridge engineers believed could be redecked were replaced. More retaining walls were built to allow extra work on utilities (added cost: $54.3 million);

* When widening Franconia Road required taking land from Lee High School, the Fairfax County School Board demanded compensation (added cost: $500,000); and

* Fairfax County supervisors demanded broader efforts to ease congestion during construction. VDOT answered the call by increasing state police presence, expanding local bus service and improving roads in the area. The state also financed an information center in Springfield Mall.

A number of omissions were made when the $241 million estimate was figured back in 1994, with the largest being the rate of inflation. From 1994 to 2001, VDOT did not assume any increase in the cost of materials or labor for the life of the project. In 2001, at the urging of federal auditors, the department began assuming a modest 3% increase in prices each year. The added cost for this mistake is $44 million.

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