Circ Highway costs exceed estimate

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(Host) Another big highway project is coming in over the estimated costs. The state Transportation Agency says the 16 mile Chittenden County Circumferential Highway will cost $222 million – about $43 million more than previous estimates.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The state says the latest cost estimates for the Circ Highway are based on more detailed engineering and design work for several new sections of the 16-mile long road. The higher numbers reflect projections of actual on the ground construction costs, rather than a generic per-mile estimate.

David Scott directs the planning division at the Transportation Agency.

(Scott) “It’s no different than sort of a house-building process. If you said I want to build a house and a builder said, on average $50 a square foot, and they didn’t know you wanted oak cabinets and gold faucets and you know all these other items. So as you go along and refine the design for your house, if you make choices you add costs. So that’s where we’re at with these.”

(Dillon) The biggest increase comes in two sections of the road planned for Colchester. Previous estimates had placed the cost around $63 million for this 7.5 mile stretch of highway. Scott says the latest estimate shows the work on this part of the road will cost about $85.3 million.

(Scott) “So nothing is staying static. These certainly are big numbers and you’re faced with costs on every project going up.”

(Dillon) Last month, lawmakers were alarmed when cost estimates for the Bennington Bypass ballooned.

Representative Frank Mazur is a South Burlington Republican who chairs the House Transportation Committee. He says the state now faces an annual $100 million shortfall in road repair and construction projects.

(Mazur) “The agency’s going to have to go back and look at all the special projects they have, and they have several that are on the books right now. And they’re going to have to look at what our financial capacity is, versus what we can pay.”

(Dillon) Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Welch says the latest cost projections for the Circ highlights a chronic problem in funding major highway projects. He says it’s difficult for the Legislature to set spending priorities when estimates turn out to be inaccurate.

(Welch) “I mean the reality is when you’re a $100 million short, one of two things can happen. Either we can raise $100 million and that means gas tax or some other fees and I don’t think there’s a big appetite for that; or we can cut back on either approved projects or on maintenance for our paving and our bridges. There’s a $100 million that’s got to come from somewhere and it’s either on the cost side or the revenue side. And we need some leadership from the administration with a plan.”

(Dillon) Unless halted by a court challenge, work on the next section of the Circ Highway is scheduled to resume next week.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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