Virginia Department of Transportation officials expect the cost of the U.S. 29 Western Bypass to balloon by at least $4.7 million as the project falls more than five months behind schedule.
 
The Federal Highway Administration has been reviewing an environmental assessment of the bypass since August to determine whether the project’s previous approvals are still valid. VDOT had anticipated the conclusion of the process to occur by Jan. 7, according to documents.
 
VDOT analysts calculated the cost of delay in March and established a “potential escalation cost of an additional $4.7 million” 90 days past the anticipated start date. That same month, the highway administration asked for more information in a revised environmental assessment.
 
In a March 21 letter to VDOT, Ed Sundra, project manager for the highway administration, said that changes to the project and other new information spurred the request.
 
One change is the pending determination from the Department of the Interior on whether the Sammons family cemetery should be included on the National Register of Historic Places.  VDOT officials pledged to preserve the cemetery, but the highway administration wants a written commitment from VDOT, Sundra wrote.
 
Lou Hatter, spokesman for VDOT’s Culpeper District, said in an email that he expects a resolution on the cemetery to occur over the summer.
 
Highway administration officials also want the assessment to address design options for the southern and northern ends of the bypass, and whether Albemarle County schools will be affected by any changes in scope since the project was last approved in 2003.
 
The requests come as the companies hired to design and build the road have expressed concern over the project’s stalling.
 
The Commonwealth Transportation Board awarded a $136 million contract to the joint venture of Skanska USA and Branch Highways in 2012. Work was slated to begin in January when the highway administration was expected clear the project for construction. Final design of the road had been expected to be completed by the end of this year, with construction expected to start in March 2014.
 
However, the highway administration only allowed Skanska-Branch to conduct geotechnical tests and other work while VDOT revises the environmental review.
 
 “We assume this delay will be short-lived and will not jeopardize the completion of this contract,” wrote J.J. Moegling, project manager for Skanska-Branch, in a letter to VDOT from early January. 
 
Two months later, Skanska-Branch sent another letter to VDOT noting that the companies were incurring unanticipated costs that could continue if the delay lingered or the project was canceled. VDOT replied that federal regulations prevented it proceeding.
 
In the interim, Laurence Farrell, construction engineer with VDOT’s Culpeper District, advised Skanska-Branch to assign its staff to other projects.
 
The schedule and contract for the bypass both have a June 2016 date for “substantial completion” with the “final” completion to take place by September 2016. A revised project schedule would be released after the completion of the environmental process, Hatter said.