Report sizes up botched US 460 project in Va.

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Local,Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — An internal state review concludes a public-private partnership to build a $1.4 billion toll road along U.S. 460 was not transparent, but the McDonnell administration broke no rules.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/1mCt64T), which obtained the report, said the pending review is by a division of the Virginia Department of Transportation and the State Inspector General's office.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe shut down predecessor Bob McDonnell's project in March, before any work had begun. He cited the failure to obtain environmental permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before construction could begin.

Before McAuliffe put the brakes on the 55-mile road, US 460 Mobility Partners had already received more than $250 million in payments from the state and Route 460 Funding Corp. of Virginia on the project. The state spent an additional $41 million for procurement, engineering and environmental studies.

The critical report on the project concluded the McDonnell administration pursued a "very aggressive or extremely aggressive" schedule for building the expressway, neglecting to fully communicate the project's risks to the public and key stakeholders. They included the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

While no rules were broken, the review found the public-private process was not open about getting federal permits necessary to build the road through wetlands and environmentally sensitive areas.

The review said payments on the project "appear reasonable," but it also raised concerns. It said, for instance, there was an "inherent risk that the vendor could overstate the value of certain work performed to maximize revenue early in a project."

Secretary of Transportation Aubrey L. Layne Jr., appointed by McAuliffe in January, has estimated that the U.S. 460 project could cost the state up to $500 million even if it is never built.

The report concluded that the project "was substantially the same as a VDOT design-build project," except for the $250 million in bond funding from the public corporation chaired by Layne, then a member of the CTB.

"In addition, the project did not appear to be timelier, more efficient, or less costly than a VDOT design-build project," the review states.

The designation as a public-private partnership, however, shielded the 460 project from much of the oversight that is present in traditional VDOT projects, such as a strong role for the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which sets and oversees state transportation priorities.

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