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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Norfolk light rail now slightly ahead of schedule

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Installation of track for Norfolk's $338 million starter light-rail line is running 35 to 40 days ahead of its revised schedule, the City Council was told March 30, The Virginian-Pilot

"Knock on wood, we'll stay on track," Hampton Roads Transit president and CEO Philip Shucet said.

The project has been plagued by schedule delays and cost overruns over the past year or so.

Among the first actions Shucet took after assuming leadership of the transit agency last month was to negotiate a guaranteed contract with Skanska, which is building the rail line. That contract includes financial incentives for finishing early and penalties for coming in late. The contract establishes the finish date as July 17. Other work, including building stations and installing overhead electric wires, will continue through the year.

One task scheduled to start later this week - extending the track across Charlotte Street at the intersection of Granby Street - presents the most risk for slowing the schedule, said Don Lint, HRT's light-rail construction manager. At the nearby Duke and Bute street intersection, he said, crews found abandoned water and sewer lines dating to 1886.

Overall, construction of the 7.4-mile light-rail line is a year-and-a-half behind schedule and $106 million over budget. HRT's former chief, Michael Townes, resigned under pressure in January and Shucet took over Feb. 1. The Tide is now scheduled to begin operating in May 2011.

Shucet said the agency is working on an "exhaustive summary" of cost increases and a financial plan for finishing the project, which are due to the Federal Transit Administration next month. The FTA has withheld $26.8 million in federal money approved for the project until it gets assurances about project spending and financial stability.

HRT needs for the FTA to release those funds in April so the agency can continue to pay the bills. Much of the work on the financial plan was originally to be done by a consultant for $300,000, but Shucet canceled that contract.

HRT has financial commitments totaling $308 million. Shucet said the agency is working to identify money from other federal and state sources. Norfolk, however, is ultimately responsible for any funding gaps.

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