Video: Being taken for a ride?

By Rehema Ellis Correspondent
NBC News
updated 6/10/2005 8:42:48 PM ET 2005-06-11T00:42:48

HAMPTON, Va. — For four long years a Virginia Beach dream vacation has been a nightmare to get to for some because of a costly highway improvement project on Interstate 64 — a main road to tourist destinations. 

Critics say it's fleecing American taxpayers who are paying 80 percent of the bills for a project that's way over budget and way behind schedule.

Philip Shucet is the commissioner of the Virginia Department of Transportation. He was hired halfway through the project.

“It was a big headache because it didn't have to be this way,” says Shucet.

The project — 2.5 miles of highway — includes seven bridges and widening the road on both sides. The original price tag was $64.7 million, but today, with cost overruns, the total is $112 million.

“They certainly could have gotten this project for less money if they had managed it a little better,” says Anne Canby with the Surface Transportation Policy Project.

The transportation department now acknowledges the project was plagued by poor scheduling, mismanagement and poor design from the beginning.

Case in point: The entire new road was too flat and found to be flood prone. So crews had to install drains along the entire stretch at an extra cost of $2.7 million.

One of the most glaring examples of flaws with the project is right on the side of the road.  Because of a critical mistake in the wording of the contract, every time one of the orange construction signs is moved, it costs taxpayers an extra fee. So far that's been a $4.5 million mistake.

“There's been a lot of lessons learned,” says Shucet. “We wrote an ambiguous contract. We write different contracts now.”

And it's not just traffic woes. Billy Hobbs says his car dealership on I-64 has lost millions.

“They've got to be able to drive in here easily and get out easily,” says Hobbs.

And that, says Hobbs, wasn't happening for a while.

Hobbs tried to make the best of a bad deal. His television commercial tells potential customers, “Don't let the construction stop you. This is a VDOT alert — Virginia Dealer Overstocked on Trucks.”

Today, officials say the project is on the right path.

But remember the contract wording problem?  There's another one. 

Even though the project is two years behind schedule, if the contractor finishes next year, under the contract, he'll still get a $500,000 early completion bonus.

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