Bypass spins: Low bid cheers some, not others

To the delight of highway supporters, the bids for the controversial Charlottesville Western Bypass have come in below budget– with the apparent low bid of $136 million. However, that was just the first spin on the project from its top backer, Neil Williamson, head of a business group called the Free Enterprise Forum.

If the low bid stands well below the $197 million budgeted last July by Commonwealth Transportation Board, there's a good reason. It doesn't include much of the design and land-acquisition cost.

In fact, the low bid of $136 million is $18 million over what the state budgeted for the actual construction: $118 million. That means, the project– if officials decide to go forward on it– is over-budget before the first shovel hits the ground, at least to opponents of the Bypass like Supervisor Dennis Rooker, Southern Environmental Law, and Piedmont Environmental Council.

"Clearly the bid is substantially over the Commonwealth Transportation Board allocation," says Rooker, who puts the overage at least at $20 million. And he notes that the bid does not include landscaping, nor does it have soundwalls to protect schools and neighborhoods. Nor has VDOT acquired all the rights-of way.

Rooker has an even bigger problem with the "design-build" project, in which the construction companies design the road based on VDOT specs. The highest bid came in at $214 million– $80 million more than the lowest bid. "That seems to me quite a bit," he says. "The primary question is, what's the difference in design between the bidders?  That's got to be significant when it's $80 million. They're not bidding on the same thing."

Supervisor Ken Boyd sees a glass half full with the bids, and key for him is VDOT's assurance that the costs don't add up to more than the $197 million the Commonwealth Transportation Board allocated for the project. "The people I talked to at VDOT are very happy with the bid," says Boyd.

And if VDOT is confident the road can be built without going over budget, that deflates the "scaremongering" Boyd says has been going on. "What's finally put to bed is that it's going to cost $400 or $500 million," he says. The total state allocation for the project is $244.6 million.

"There's still some clarification to be done and still some moving parts," says Boyd, acknowledging that environmental and traffic studies still need to be done.

The low bid comes from Skanska AB, a multinational construction headquartered in Sweden and known for building such projects as MetLife Stadium (best known as the Meadowlands) in New York. In Virginia, the company is currently constructing the Midtown Tunnel between Norfolk and Portsmouth.

Hailed at the highest echelons of state government for moving traffic past 14 traffic lights to speed the flow of traffic, the long-planned roadway has generated gobs of local controversy because it would consume dozens of homes, potentially contribute to health ailments for nearby schoolchildren, and fail to actually bypass much of the commerce that already cloaks the northern suburbs.

"This would have been 25 percent cheaper if we'd done it 10 years ago," says Williamson.


Updated 2:30pm with additional reporting by Lisa Provence
–Original headline:
"Bargain Bypass? Low bid cheers roadway supporters?

Read more on: western bypass


They could drop 4 express lanes below grade with bridges at major intersections and maintain the one, single roadway footprint, much like Interstate 10 as it runs through Los Angeles. That would speed traffic actually destined for Charlottesville residents as well as function as a bypass for Lynchburg—NOVA traffic.

Now if we can just build a bridge and tunnel to Dyke from downtown we will officially be Northern Virginia.

"This would have been 25 percent cheaper if we'd done it 10 years ago," says Williamson.

Umm, that's just adjusting for inflation. Everything was 25 percent cheaper in 2001. Is he seriously trying to claim this difference as a cost of delaying the bypass?

Let the cost overruns begin!

fix the Belmont bridge

in writing about the same topic, the headline for the Charlottesville Tomorrow article reads "All Bypass Bids Surpass Amount Allocated", but The Hook says, " Bargain bypass? Low bid cheers roadway supporters". so are the bids over or under budget? reading both articles gives me the answer but it was surprising to see the varying headlines.

Has close will Dennis Rooker's house be to the bypass? I am told that is the only reason he objects to the bypass.

So I lived long enough to see the damn thing! Well, maybe...

That Bypass will go right through Rooker's living room. If you google 1800 Roslyn Ridge Rd., you'll see it goes right through that neighborhood.

From CT September 20, 2011:
Members of CATCO said in a press release Tuesday that the differing numbers represent a deliberate manipulation of information.

“It is obvious that this project will cost substantially more than has been presented and approved,” read the press release. “In light of these gross understatements of cost on which approval of the project was based… the Commonwealth Transportation Board should reconsider this project.”

From CT September 21 2011:
James Rich, who represents the Culpeper District on the CTB, was the lone vote against the bypass in July. He said the topic came up at Wednesday’s CTB meeting in Portsmouth.

“I expressed concern that we hadn’t been given that information beforehand and that the project did not appear to be on sound financial ground or technical grounds,” Rich said.

From CT July 15, 2009
On the subject of the Western Bypass of Route. 29, Rooker said the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has been consistently against the Western Bypass and has “never spent any of its own money on the project. Funding for preliminary engineering and the purchase of the right-of-way has come entirely from the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Rooker said it was more likely that smaller projects called for in Places29 would receive funds than the Western Bypass, which has been estimated to cost around $300 million.

“Nobody is going to give a proffer for building a bypass,” Rooker said. “The state has now determined that [the Western Bypass] does not pass any reasonable cost-benefit analysis in terms of looking at the transportation improvement provided for the dollars invested.”

This is all before Rooker promised us it would cost over $500 million

Why do we keep listening to those who have gotten it wrong over and over again?

"This would have been 25 percent cheaper if we'd done it 10 years ago," says Williamson. Why do these people who do not know what they are talking about keep getting printed, St. Halsey? Has anyone asked Weilliamson to justify his number? This is one of those statements that will keep being repeated until it is accepted generally as fact. Williamson has no background in costing roads and certainly he would not have been able to cost a road that had not been engineered.
Why are millions being wasted on landscaping the road. Let both sides be natural growth. It's not supposed to serve as a tourist attraction. Not landscaping will also cut down on future roadside maintenance.

Agreed. The proposed ByPass is not one at all, not a solution to the problem of North/South congestion along US 29. However, C'ville planners need to figure out a solution to the serious problem which they created -- especially having taken tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars for the project -- and having nothing to show for it. A true ByPass will have to run either East or West of C'town (running essentially North/South) and nobody wants it in their backyard.

Just remember that in most things, you get what you pay for. Just sayin'.....

Cville Eye I agree that everyone should show their math- I'm clearly not here to defend the often pedantic and occasionally misleading Mr. Williamson.

However Mr. Williamson's statements seem trivial compared with the anti bypass forces cocky assurances to the much higher and now provable wrong cost figures to actual build the bypass. Rooker will find fault with the winning design no matter what it is, on that you can reliable bank your life savings. He will have unproven allegations and vastly overstate his case- which will all be reliably reported by the local media without a mention on how badly his ability to accurately predict anything regarding the bypass for the last few years.

I waited to see the cost figures and now will wait to see the actual design. I will say this Skanska looks like a top notch firm who can handle a project like this without a steep leaning curve. We may have luck out on price and contractor on this one.

Mr. Williamson got his number by using the CPI index, as he mentions. Google "CPI calculator" and you'll find a site that allows you to convert 2012 dollars to 2001 dollars. Type the bypass low-bid in and you'll get the number he quotes in 2001 dollars. This is the right way to adjust for inflation and he's being honest about his methodology, but it's a meaningless point. It tells you the inflation rate of the last decade, but says nothing about the real costs of the bypass.

@New Reality, thank you for your commenting. The CPI has nothing to do with current construction costs which has declined greatly since the recession. The costs of houses, clothing, cars and food does not influence the fact that, unlike 5the early 200's when we would have been lucky to get three for this project, we obviously have many construction companies willing to compete for low bids. That was the point often made by Rooker and Boyd in order to encourage the hurry-up decisions about Ragged Mtn. Let's move forward before construction costs rise again).