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Culpeper supervisors take up cost of western loop bypass

Culpeper Supervisor Steve Nixon was blunt when Virginia Department of Transportation official Brent Sprinkel suggested that it might take more county money to re-engineer parts of the western loop bypass.

“How can we have the confidence to let VDOT redo what they’ve already screwed up?” Nixon asked during Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

Nixon added that VDOT has already “wasted” $1.6 million in what has proven to be a faulty engineering study that underestimated construction costs by almost $8 million for the bypass linking U.S. 29 North and South.

During a 30-minute grilling, Sprinkel acknowledged that the original estimate, based on a consultant’s report, was $10.4 million in actual construction costs. In the span of six months, that number has risen to $18 million.

Adding in $3 million in right-of-way procurement and $2 million in contingency costs, the 1.6-mile bypass that VDOT said last fall was good to go at $14.8 million has now ballooned to $23 million.

Sprinkel, VDOT’s Culpeper District assistant administrator, told the board that part of the problem was that the contractor that initially engineered the project grossly underestimated the amount of bridging that needs to be done on Balds Run and the amount of fill dirt to elevate the roadbed by as much as 20 feet in some places.

One source close to the situation said that the original fill dirt estimate was 20,000 cubic yards. It is now closer to 230,000 cubic yards.

“Those problems came upon us later in the game than we are accustomed to,” Sprinkel said, adding that soil quality and water-flow estimates were not readjusted until late 2012 and early 2013.

VDOT held public hearings on the project in 2008 and 2011. As late as the fall of 2013, highway department officials told the county that the $15.2 million in revenue-sharing funds accumulated over the past decade would be sufficient for the project.

VDOT began buying right-of-way early this year, but stopped abruptly two weeks ago when the likelihood of under-funding became evident, Sprinkel said. So far, about $100,000 in procurement and appraisal money has been spent.

Supervisor Sue Hansohn, in whose district the proposed highway would lie, asked if some money from the now defunct Charlottesville bypass project could be shifted to the Culpeper outer loop.

Sprinkel said no, because the Culpeper project was revenue-sharing money and Charlottesville was a state project and dollars from the two pots could not be interchanged.

“VDOT needs to make this right,” Hansohn said. “You screwed up; we didn’t.”

Nixon, again voicing his lack of confidence in VDOT, asked if it was possible for the county to use the revenue-sharing funds to build the road on its own.

Sprinkel said that was possible, to which Nixon and Hansohn asked, “If we do that, can we get the $1.6 million in engineering money we’ve spent back from you?”

Sprinkel said he could not answer that question. Nor could he explain why the water and spoil problems came to VDOT’s attention so late in the game or how long it would take to answer re-engineering questions.

The outer loop (State Route 784) was scheduled to go out for bids on July 1, with construction starting as early as this fall.

Sprinkel said his office would look at ways to bring down costs, including building a bridge span for two lanes of traffic instead of four. Still, he said, that might only bring the price tag down to $18 million, some $3 million below what is in the bank.

Sprinkel said he hopes to meet with his superiors this week to see what can be done and report back to the board in May. At that time, the supervisors will likely decide whether to move forward or scrap the project.

Donnie Johnston:


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