By Sean Tubbs Charlottesville Tomorrow Friday, May 11, 2012
The Virginia Department of Transportation says one of the seven bids from firms seeking to design and build the 6.2-mile Western Bypass of U.S. 29 through Albemarle County appears to be within the budget set aside by Virginia’s transportation policy board.
However, supporters and opponents of the road were still in disagreement at the end of the day Friday as they sought to understand VDOT's cost calculations.
Virginia Beach-based Skanska Branch submitted the lowest bid with a proposal of $136 million. The highest bidder provided an estimate of $214 million. The bids were opened in Richmond on Friday.
The prices were opened in a conference room in VDOT's Richmond headquarters
“VDOT will conduct responsiveness checks of these proposals and the required information, and contingent on the results of that review, VDOT will proceed with the notice of intent to award,” said Jeff Hetzer of the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Alternative Project Delivery office.
The total project budget for the bypass is $244.5 million, including money already spent for preliminary engineering and right of way purchase.
The Commonwealth Transportation Board voted 12-1 in July to allocate an additional $197.4 million for the bypass. Of that amount, $7.4 million was designated for more engineering and $118.2 million was set aside for construction.
That adds up to $125.6 million, or $10 million less than the Skanska bid.
However, VDOT officials said that the low bids were all within range of the amount allocated by the CTB.
“Based on the apparent low bids all project costs are within the allocated amount in the Six-Year Improvement Program,” said Lou Hatter, spokesman for VDOT’s Culpeper District.
"The design-build process combines preliminary engineering and construction, which totals $139 million," Hatter said, combining $118.2 million for construction and $20.8 for preliminary engineering.
However, that assumes VDOT has not yet spent ay money on preliminary engineering, which includes field surveys, utility location and public hearings. An internal VDOT cost estimate shows the agency had $9.3 million in preliminary expenditures through June 17, 2011.
The CTB also designated $71.7 million to complete the purchase of right of way and easements. So far, 83 of 122 target parcels along the route have been purchased at a cost of $33.7 million.
“It does appear that these bids are over budget,” said Trip Pollard, director of the land and community program at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “However, due to the lack of information provided by VDOT, it is not totally clear that this is the case since it could be that other money is available in addition to the amount the CTB specifically set aside last summer.”
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An internal right-of-way estimate from November 2007 that was obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and provided to Charlottesville Tomorrow estimated it would cost $70.9 million to complete the right of way process.
That includes $42.7 million for land, $200,000 for buildings, $400,000 for other improvements, and nearly $4 million in damages. The cost of condemnation was estimated at $16.9 million with $525,000 listed as administrative costs.
One area business leader welcomed the bid opening and said “legal challenges” and “political obstruction” had raised the project cost.
“As the community has been engaged in this vibrant debate, costs have been increasing,” Williamson said. “The community must recognize that these delays have financial impacts.”
The winning bidder will be responsible for completing the right of way process. However, they cannot begin until an environmental assessment is conducted to determine if previous federal approvals of the road are still valid. VDOT had previously stated that that process will be complete in early fall.
The lone vote on the CTB against the project was cast by James Rich, the board’s Culpeper District representative. He will be briefed on the bid opening on Monday.
“We’ll see what’s included and isn’t included in here,” Rich said Friday. “I am concerned about sound walls and bridge aesthetics and the costs for the environmental assessment … I’m unclear on all of that but I hope by Monday I’ll be more clear.”
Rich said his central concern is that no one but VDOT officials will see the design until June 20, when the CTB awards a contract to one of the bidders. Virginia’s Public Procurement Act states that technical plans in a design-build scenario are only made available to the public after the CTB awards the contract.
Albemarle Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker said the price of the road will be even higher because VDOT instructed bidders not to include landscaping as part of the project. He estimated that plantings could cost as much as $10 million.
“The bids assume that the bare minimum requirements of federal law will be met, so if there are to be any ‘upgrades’ like sound walls, sound berms, additional bridge aesthetics, they would need to be done by change orders, which would add to the cost,” Rooker said.
The seven price proposals were opened in no particular order and the prices were read out one by one. Each of the bidders will be paid $100,000 for the submission of their plans.
The bids for the design-build project are:
American Infrastructure of Glen Allen: $139,738,715
CH2MHILL of Richmond: $149,879,827
Granite-Wagman of Tarrytown, N.Y.: $214,239,805
Charlottesville Bypass Constructors (Shirley-English) of Lorton: $175,776,716
Lane Construction of Chantilly: $152,484,607
Skanska of Virginia Beach: $135,988,092
Zachry/TranSystems of San Antonio: $192,000,000
(This story was updated at both 2:41 pm and 6:22 pm to reflect new information)