Douglas asks for cost-saving modifications to Bypass

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas is asking state highway engineers to consider ways to redesign the northern leg of the Bennington Bypass to help reduce the cost of the project. The governor is taking this step because the estimated price tag for the road has more than doubled, from $45 million to $99 million.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The disclosure last week that the cost of the second leg of the Bennington Bypass has increased to almost $100 million has clearly annoyed the governor. There’s been no detailed explanation to account for the drastic increase. Transportation officials say the earlier projections were based on average construction costs and didn’t reflect the actual conditions of this project.

Douglas traveled to Bennington Monday afternoon to meet with site engineers for the project and to visit the proposed road corridor. Douglas says he strongly supports the By Pass project but he feels it’s necessary to explore ways to redesign parts of the road to see if there are any opportunities to cut costs:

(Douglas) “We have to look at the cost and see if there are some ways to reduce it. I’m not an engineer so I don’t know that I’ll be able to immediately identity possibilities. But we want to look at the costs of the Bennington Bypass to make sure that it’s being done in as cost effective way as possible, while still insuring that the basic purpose of the Bypass – mainly to get major transportation volume out of the village – is still accomplished.”

(Kinzel) Douglas wants the Agency of Transportation to create a new division that would make detailed estimates of the cost of specific road and bridge projects. The governor says Vermont is one of only a handful of states that doesn’t have such a planning division in place. Unless the state develops this kind of capability, Douglas is concerned that the true cost of many other projects could be a lot higher than original estimates:

(Douglas) “A couple of years ago we saw the cost of the bike bridge between Burlington and Colchester escalate dramatically. So I fear that it’s something that occurs in transportation projects from time to time, especially those that are planned over a long period and are subject to delays in construction. I am concerned about other projects – including the CIRC – and we want to be sure that we have a clear, accurate understanding of what the costs are. Otherwise it’s difficult to develop transportation plans and fund them.”

(Kinzel) The Senate voted last week to suspend all planning for the third and final leg of the Bennington Bypass. The Senate Transportation committee argued that it makes no sense to design the final portion of the road if the second leg is going to be subject to some alterations.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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