Bypass costs prompt questions about Circ budget

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(Host) Concern over cost increases for the Bennington Bypass has prompted questions about whether a major Chittenden County highway project is holding to its budget. State transportation officials are now reviewing cost estimates for the $189 million Circumferential Highway.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Construction on the next section of the Circ is slated to resume this spring, although a challenge is pending in federal court.

The 3.8 mile section in Williston is supposed to cost about $40 million. The next two sections – each are just under four miles – are estimated at $33 million and $35 million apiece. Democratic Senator Peter Welch, the Senate president pro tempore who serves on the finance and transportation committees, wants to know if all these estimates are firm.

(Welch) “I definitely don’t want to get caught on the Circ. I mean that’s the mother of all projects, it’s a big ticket item. It’s the biggest one we have, and I want to make sure we have an accurate handle on what the cost is.”

(Dillon) Welch points out that cost of the Bennington project ballooned from 44 million to 99 million dollars. He says that will affect what the state can afford to spend in the future — including work on critically needed road and bridge projects.

(Welch) “This is a $55 million problem. And frankly, I think we need the administration and the agency to tell us how we’re going to deal with it. Because this has an impact on the construction schedule of the Bennington Bypass and it has an impact on our bridge and paving program. And it certainly has an impact on our major projects, and I think the Circ is one of them.”

(Dillon) The state last fall received construction bids for work on the Circumferential Highway that’s scheduled for this year. So that cost will probably not be changed. But state officials are now revising cost estimates for subsequent phases of the project scheduled for 2006 and 2007.

William Knight is executive director of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, a municipal body that oversees transportation projects in Chittenden County. Knight says some factors have changed that could affect the final price tag.

(Knight) “Those costs are being brought up to date now as the state reviews the engineering on those, and also reviews the environmental issues. For example we all know we’ve got stormwater issues since some the design work has been done. So all I can say there is at the time they were done they were the best estimates possible and there may be some change as a result of review of design.”

(Dillon) Critics of the Circ Highway say the project will consume scarce transportation dollars. Knight predicts that if the costs estimate changes, it won’t be as bad as the projected increases for the Bennington Bypass.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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