HRT explains light rail delay, cost overrun


by Patrick Terpstra and Kristina Rohall, 13News

Posted on December 20, 2009 at 11:39 PM

Updated Monday, Dec 21 at 8:00 PM

NORFOLK -- The Tide light rail system under construction is about $40 million behind schedule because of last-minute changes and surprises during construction, according to Hampton Roads Transit spokesman Tom Holden.

Factors cited by HRT include unexpected conditions in the field, requests for design changes, underground utility relocation, consultant issues, and management problems.

  "The additional costs of this project are deeply disappointing to HRT," Holden said.

HRT is rewriting contracts to lock the cost of work by construction companies in hopes of preventing further increases, Holden said.

HRT President and CEO Michael Townes, recovering from a knee operation, was unable to speak to 13News on Monday.

He is expected to brief City Council members on Tuesday about the cost overrun.

The board overseeing HRT will hold a special meeting to discuss related personnel matters.

Some taxpayers are frustrated.

"The money for this is coming out of our pockets," said Norfolk resident Skip Miller.  "If we're going to buy something tell us how much it's going to be and then we'll pay the amount.  Don't come back later and say 'Oh by the way, I need "x" amount of dollars more."

Drivers are dreading the continued construction in downtown Norfolk.

"Just not having it done on time is going to be frustrating," said Casey Maderazo.  "All of a sudden you have 3 more months of dealing with road blocks and streets not being open."

The Chairman of the Transportation District Commission, Jim Wood, says he is very upset about what he calls "a lack of communication" from HRT.

In a letter to board members and lawmakers, Wood says he repeatedly asked for an update on the light rail project, but did not get it until Dec.10, 2009.

Wood says he will demand answers from HRT officials at a meeting Wednesday.