Raleigh, N.C. — From the mountains to the coast, road construction is constant in North Carolina.
But keeping up with demand is nearly impossible for the state Department of Transportation, which is tasked with helping relieve traffic pressure in rapidly growing areas with a relatively meager budget.
“The problem is that, ultimately, there isn’t enough money to deal with those projects,” Nick Tennyson, chief deputy secretary for DOT, said. “The database is at about $ 70 billion, and we allocated on a yearly basis for our construction process about a billion and a half. We are definitely trying to be as efficient as we can be to deliver the service to people that we need to deliver.”
Budget constraints coupled with inefficient project construction have left many North Carolina road projects in the slow lane, and if the current trends continue, taxpayers could end up paying millions more for projects already under construction.
WRAL Investigates examined the 482 DOT projects underway in the state and found that 269 of them – or 59 percent – are over budget. Ninety-four of the 482 projects, about 20 percent, are under budget.
If the projects stay on the same course, and DOT ends up paying for the extra construction costs, it would cost taxpayers more than $ 146 million.
Tennyson said it’s fair for the public to question the original bid process of construction jobs and the efficiency of the projects underway, but he said it’s not clear how much money will be spent – or potentially saved – until the projects are done.
“Until we close the project out, we can’t really recognize the full impact of places where we haven’t had to the spend money,” he said.
DOT officials said the state paid out about 2.5 percent – or $ 27.2 million – more than the original bids for projects completed in 2014. A year earlier, the bid value of the projects was $ 923 million and the final overrun was $ 11.6 million, or 1.3 percent.
Changes to road projects add up. In Wake County, the state paid 28 percent more for a resurfacing project because it added Buck Jones Road after the original bid.
The state paid 40 percent more for a tunnel project in McDowell County because DOT officials and the contractor underestimated the amount of concrete required.
“We’re human beings. There are always times we’d like to have better foresight,” Tennyson said. “Time and cost are both constantly a concern for everyone in the department. I know that NC DOT has the best professionals in the country, probably in the world, at doing what we do. There are just some things you can’t reveal until you get into that contract.”
Time has become a major factor for many of the projects in WRAL’s 22-county viewing area. Of the 125 projects, about 80 are taking longer than expected.
The Fortify project, a massive rebuild of Interstate 40 and 440 south of Raleigh, is still on target to finish in the summer of 2016, officials said. But other projects, such as the Rolesville Bypass, are overdue.
“It’s so far behind it’s unbelievable,” Rolesville Mayor Frank Eagles said.
The bypass was supposed to open in summer 2014, but weather delays and problems for the contractor pushed it back almost a year.
“I think it’s going to be a relief for everybody. And it’s just been a long time coming,” Eagles said.
Rolesville resident Darro Beck said the bumper-to-bumper traffic he sees every morning is much different than what he remembers as a child – a time when Rolesville didn’t even have a grocery store.
“It’s a nice place to live. It’s just so hard to get out onto the highway,” Beck said. “I’m looking forward to looking out my kitchen window and going out when I get ready.”
DOT officials said some of the completion delays have to do with the finishing touches of projects such as landscaping, meaning that roads may be drivable despite projects not being officially completed.
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This article appears with permission from our great friends at WRAL who have been wonderful supporters of our work.