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Thursday, January 21, 2010

HRT welcomes public audit of light rail

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Hampton Roads, Va., Transit welcomed the call for a public audit of the light rail project as a significant step toward ensuring accountability of The Tide's management and oversight, the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot reports.

"We thank Delegate Miller and her co-sponsors for legislative leadership on this and appreciate her on-going concern for the financial integrity of this project," said James Toscano, vice president of public affairs and communications at HRT. "We believe an audit is critical to a full understanding of the light rail project cost problems and will serve as a means of restoring public confidence. We need both if light rail is to be successfully extended to other communities.

Virginia General Assembly Delegate Paula Miller, D-Norfolk, on Jan. 20 called on the auditor of public accounts to conduct an audit of The Tide after it was revealed that the project had gone over budget. As of Jan. 21, Norfolk delegates Algie Howell, Kenneth Alexander and Lynwood Lewis, and Sen. Ralph Northam, D-Norfolk, are co-sponsors of HJ151.

In another story, some of the concrete laid around the embedded light-rail track behind City Hall does not meet minimum standards and is being torn out. While the mistake was made by a contractor, which must absorb the cost of redoing the job, the timing is unfortunate, Hampton Roads Transit spokesman Tom Holden said. The transit agency has been harshly criticized for cost overruns and schedule delays on the construction of Norfolk's light-rail starter line.

Holden said about 700 feet of concrete on East Main Street between City Hall and Harbor Park did not pass compression tests. Crews will take 10 days to rip it out and pour new concrete, he said.

"This is more of a nuisance - it will not affect the latest completion date and will not affect the cost because the contractor has to pay for it," Holden said. "Re-dos of one kind or another happen throughout big projects. Certainly it's not what the contractor wants. Nobody wants to have that happen. But it can happen."

About a year ago, HRT said light rail's $232-million price had jumped to $288 million. Officials told Norfolk City Council last month that the price had risen to $328 million. The next day, it was revealed that it could actually be $340 million.

The 7.4-mile light-rail line runs from the medical complex on Brambleton Avenue, through downtown, to the city line at Newtown Road. It is scheduled to open in early 2011.

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