Price of Western Bypass Doubles

VDOT’s internal estimates of the cost of the Western Bypass are double what they told the Commonwealth Transportation Board, Sean Tubbs reports for Charlottesville Tomorrow. A FOIA request by the Charlottesville Albemarle Transportation Coalition, a local anti-bypass group, turned up that VDOT’s own engineers did the math on the project in late June—just a month before the CTB agreed to fund the bypass bypass—and figured out that it would cost $436M, not the $197M that they’d claimed (and that the CTB allocated).

A 121% difference is a hell of a big omission. What’s the difference? Well, Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton directed VDOT’s engineers to figure out how much it would cost, and they found a great many problems with the earlier, lower estimate. First, the price tag was based on a standard of road construction below “interstate” grade, which wouldn’t be sufficient—that added another $24M. Second, the earlier price failed to factor in that the road would have to go clear through Stillhouse Mountain and generally require a lot of earth and rock moving—that’s another $122M. Finally, the estimate for bridges had been low-balled—that was another $26M.

Charlottesville Tomorrow gave VDOT the chance to comment, and the agency’s commissioner tried out a few different responses: a) they don’t intend to build as good of a road as they designed, b) estimates are meaningless—it’s the bids that count, c) projects have been coming in 15–30% (but not 121%, presumably) below estimates d) there’s no telling how good of a road they’ll want until they put this out to bid…next week.

The real mystery here is how VDOT’s final estimate of $436M was presented to the BOS (or, more accurately, the four members of the board who held an unannounced midnight vote to approve the Western Bypass) and to the CTB as merely $197M. If projects have been coming in 15–30% below engineers’ estimates, then presumably the engineers’ estimates have dropped accordingly—presumably that’s something that engineers would have factored in as recently as June. Even then, 30% below VDOT’s estimate is still $152M over budget.

The question that has to be asked is what Sean Connaughton knew and when he knew it. And, of course, whether any members of the BOS had any idea that these numbers were wrong. More likely, they had no idea—the majority on the BOS rushed the whole approval process, based solely on Connaughton’s say-so. This could be a tough lesson for them.

19 Responses to “Price of Western Bypass Doubles”


  • How did this estimate not get out earlier? I’m surprised we don’t have reporters hounding VDOT engineers for the truth. Regardless, if the powers that be proceed with this road at that price tag then I’m converting everything I have to gold, land and guns and heading for the hills. Infrastructure spending is one thing but this would be beyond the pale with respect to wasteful spending of money that does not exist.

  • VDOT – or as we like to refer to them “The A**holes with the Asphalt”.

    We didn’t need a quarter-of-a-billion-dollar bypass and we SURE don’t need a half-billion dollar one, either.

  • A local story recounts the extremely hard rock on that side of town, and I don’t recall if it’s been mentioned in the press. The company that contracted to excavate the cut for one of the ramps at the bypass & Fontaine Avenue went bankrupt doing it, in the 1960s/70s.

    As for VDOT, there’s no reason to insult them. Sounds like the Richmond engineer Mohammad Mirshah did his job, but Culpeper had the clout to override him, or was directed to do so politically.

    Short story, VDOT *was* a big baddie, controlled by VMI road engineers, for decades, and the roads were indeed very well paved. Then with reforms in 1980s, the business opened up a bit, but with cutbacks, VDOT became even thinner, handing over even its supervision to outside contractors.

    Coincidentally, Lynchburg was rooked when I-64 took a bump north and left them with no interstate, and you can imagine there’s more of connection between Lynchburg & VMI than Cville & VMI. Same goes for the current pols in Richmond. So if you think there was a conspiracy out of Culpeper VDOT, political Richmond, and Lynchurg/Danville, you are probably right. Landholders north of town are in a sweet spot too, for developing commuter housing for UVa workers.

    But calling the beleaguered professionals at VDOT names, well I would really have to see some evidence before I had any sympathy for that.

  • “if the powers that be proceed with this road at that price tag then I’m converting everything I have to gold, land and guns and heading for the hills.”

    Man, I tried converting my toaster into gold, but instead it turned into a gun. I was so disappointed. You got any tips on achieving maybe a bit more specificity in such transformations?

  • I’ve been told that late night television has all the answers Yo.

  • @belmont yo, “You got any tips on achieving maybe a bit more specificity in such transformations?”

    I get gold every time. You just need the right tool for the job.

  • You are surprised? I am surprised that you are surprised!

    Almost ever aspect of this project has been the subject of lies and distortions by the proponents: its efficacy, the choice of the route, the environmental impact analysis, the declaration that it will only be built when our other road needs have been met and its need evident, and now the cost. All lies and distortions.

  • You are surprised? I am surprised that you are surprised!

    Almost ever aspect of this project has been the subject of lies and distortions by the proponents: its efficacy, the choice of the route, the environmental impact analysis, the declaration that it will only be built when our other road needs have been met and its need evident, and now the cost. All prevarications and distortions.

  • You are surprised? I am surprised that you are surprised!

    Almost ever aspect of this project has been the subject of lies and distortions by the proponents: its efficacy, the choice of the route, the environmental impact analysis, the declaration that it will only be built when our other road needs have been met and its need evident, and now the cost. All deliberate miss-statements.

  • You are surprised?

    Almost ever aspect of this project has been the subject of lies and distortions by the proponents: its efficacy, the choice of the route, the environmental impact analysis, the declaration that it will only be built when our other road needs have been met and its need evident, and now the cost. All deliberate miss-statements.

  • I apologize for the multiple posts. The site gave me an error message and I kept trying to fix the mistake and repost—nor realizing that all versions were posted,

    again, sorry.

  • Worse still, Pekoe, I can’t seem to delete your excess comments! I’m sorry about that.

    This is yet another sign that I need to carve out a weekend to upgrade the creaky old version of WordPress that I have running this site. It’s slowly but surely breaking.

  • Yeah it is a little buggy in the posting. On the upside, newer WordPress is easier to keep up to date.

    I’d suggest for the major update, just upload all but wp-content from the distribution. Update wp-config.php and .htaccess. Then see if it works.

  • since 1996 i’ve been wondering why this route was chosen over an eastern one; in the process of fighting the resurgence of this road, (#notabypass,) i have not found many answers, except that maybe the rock btw lovingston and 64 would be too expensive to cut through. the only other reason i thought of was perhaps the monticello viewshed, east towards richmond, was being protected. can anyone speak to why a western ‘bypass’ was chose over an eastern one?

  • An eastern bypass would be tough to manage on account of the Southwest Mountains and 64. As you can see on this terrain map, an eastern bypass would really have to consist of 33—in order to get over the mountains—run south, cross 64, go south past Carter’s Mountain order to get back over the Southwest Mountains, and rejoin 29 just south of Dudley Mountain. Not only is that an awfully long route, but it requires crossing 64 (an expensive operation), traversing a mountain range twice and—this is the real kicker—buying up many acres of the most expensive land in town along the Cash Corner/Cismont/Keswick corridor. It’d plow right through the Keswick Country Club and some of the county’s most historic estates (Castle Hill, for instance). The people who live along there are politically just too powerful, the land too valuable, the route too difficult.

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