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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Transit official OKs inquiry into HRT

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Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton has ordered an investigation into Hampton Roads Transit's business practices and light-rail project, The Virginian-Pilot reports.

HRT's new president and CEO, Philip Shucet, asked Connaughton to authorize an inquiry of the agency, which has amassed more than $100 million in cost overruns on Norfolk's light-rail line. Connaughton signed off on the investigation, which will be conducted by the Virginia Department of Transportation inspector general.

"There's state money as well as federal money in the light-rail project so we need to ensure all the funds were properly allocated," he said.

Shucet wants investigators to examine three issues: HRT's business practices as they relate to The Tide light-rail project, HRT's consultant selection process and HRT's handling of a suspected embezzlement of $80,000, for which three employees were fired.

Shucet requested the review begin no later than April 1 and deliver an initial report no later than July 1.

"We will begin almost immediately," Connaughton said. "We'll work with Mr. Shucet and staff to establish time frames that meet whatever requirements that they have."

Shucet took the helm of HRT on Feb. 1, replacing Michael Townes, who was forced to step down last month.

Over the past year, the cost of Norfolk's 7.4-mile light-rail line ballooned 46 percent from $232 million to an estimated $338 million - the newest cost estimate that was announced Feb.18. Its opening is delayed until May 2011.

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