VDOT: Bypass will be built within budget

A financial plan released by the Virginia Department of Transportation says the agency will be able to fully fund the $244.5 million Western Bypass of U.S. 29 in Albemarle County .

“Based on current cost projections, there is no projected shortfall on the Route 29 Bypass project,” concludes a 17-page draft financial plan obtained by Charlottesville Tomorrow.

VDOT redacted several expenditures from the financial plan

However, the financial plan redacts specific expenditures upon which VDOT is basing that claim. For instance, the agency is not releasing the projected estimate to complete the acquisition of land for right of way. VDOT also redacted projected costs for landscaping, unknown contingencies and the cost for VDOT to oversee the project.

“At this point, those numbers are still exempt from public disclosure under the Virginia Public Procurement Act,” said Lou Hatter, spokesman for VDOT’s Culpeper District.

Hatter explained that the numbers will not be released to the public until June 20, when the Commonwealth Transportation Board is expected to award a $136 million contract to Skanska-Branch of Virginia Beach to design and build the , four-lane highway. This expenditure was not redacted in the financial plan.

For that amount, Skanska-Branch will conduct final design, right of way acquisition services, utility coordination and relocation, construction and quality control on construction.

State law requires VDOT to create a financial plan for any transportation project in excess of $100 million.

The plan must have a complete cost estimate for construction, right of way purchase and design services. A cash-flow analysis must be performed and sources of revenue must be identified.

VDOT has spent $48 million to date on preliminary engineering and to purchase land. The CTB allocated an additional $197.4 million to the project last July.

“This plan demonstrates and outlines VDOT’s commitment to sound financial planning and providing the resources needed to complete the project by July 2016,” reads the plan.

The financial plan must be updated annually and must be updated if the project requires a major change.

The draft financial plan has raised questions from at least one opponent of the project.

“The redactions are interesting in light of the fact that [VDOT has] been providing estimates … for some time and now think they need to redact that information,” said Albemarle Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker . “It [also] seems strange that VDOT can’t estimate its own expenses to oversee the project.”

Last month, VDOT officials estimated the remaining right of way costs would be around $35 million. The CTB was told in July 2011 that the remaining cost would be $71 million. Charlottesville Tomorrow’s request to obtain a detailed reasoning for the lower cost was denied.

The financial plan states that right of way acquisition is one area where costs could increase.

“The department remains responsible for the actual cost of the purchase of right of way, all easements and miscellaneous fees associated with closing,” reads the plan. “While the current right-of-way cost estimate includes costs for potential condemnations, escalation and associated costs, there is the possibility that actual acquisition costs may fluctuate prior to final settlement.”

If the contract with Skanska Branch moves forward on June 20, VDOT is expected to issue a notice to proceed on preliminary design activities and traffic studies on July 20.

The agency is also expected to issue Skanska-Branch a notice to proceed on final design work on Oct. 31. That assumes VDOT will have completed an environmental assessment to determine whether previous approvals from the Federal Highway Administration are still valid.

VDOT staff will work to conduct the environmental assessment, oversight of final design and payment for new right of way to be acquired for the project.

One supporter of the bypass said he is waiting to see the detailed expenditures, but still has faith in VDOT’s accounting.

“I do trust them but I can’t go any further than that because I haven’t seen the numbers yet,” said Supervisor Rodney S. Thomas . “I’ve been told it will be coming in under budget and they haven’t been wrong yet.”