Cost of Richmond Highway widening project increases by $157 million

(VDOT image)

The estimated cost of the Richmond Highway widening project has jumped 73 percent, according to new figures from the Virginia Department of Transportation.

The estimated price of the project — which seeks to widen Route 1 between Jeff Todd Way and Sherwood Hall Lane — has gone from $215 million to $372 million. The cost of construction phase alone more than tripled since last year, going from $60 million to $192 million. Other phases such as preliminary engineering and right-of-way acquisition also increased, although not as dramatically.

VDOT officials said last week that cost increases are common in such large projects, particularly as research is done during the design stage. Increases in the cost of materials and inflation were also factors in the increase, but the complexity of a few street and intersection realignments were the main driver of the price jump, said Dan Reinhard, VDOT’s project executive for the Richmond Highway widening.

“As we’ve moved forward through the preliminary design, we’ve identified more details of the project,” said Reinhard. “As you do that, your costs evolve.”

Aspects of the project that have proved to be more involved than originally known include the realignment of Sacramento Drive to intersect with Cooper Road, the Buckman Road/Mount Vernon Memorial Highway realignment, and the closure and realignment of the south end of Buckman Road.

The Sacramento/Cooper realignment will require acquiring part of the Woodlawn Center’s property, as well as the creation of a new driveway connection with the Sacramento Center (see below).

slide showing intersection realignment
Click to enlarge (VDOT slide)

The Buckman/Mount Vernon Memorial intersection will need to be moved 200 feet to the south (see below).

slide showing realigned intersection
Click to enlarge (VDOT slide)

Buckman Road’s southern intersection with Route 1 will be closed, and a new connection will run around the South County Government Center from a new roundabout installed at the Buckman/Groombridge Way intersection (see below).

slide of realignment
Click to enlarge (VDOT slide)

The size and length of the three bridges needed for the project also increased, Reinhard said.

Where project currently stands

The Richmond Highway widening project is in the design phase, and the overall schedule for the project hasn’t changed because of the cost increases, Reinhard said. Right-of-way acquisition is expected to begin later this year and construction is slated to start in 2023.

VDOT is holding its next public meeting on the widening project on March 26. The agency has shared specific aspects of the intersection design online and at a business breakfast hosted by the Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce last month.

Right now the project’s design, right-of-way acquisition and utility relocation phases are fully funded, Reinhard said. Approximately $194 million in funding will still need to be secured in the coming years. The project’s pricetag is reevaluated after each phase of work, Reinhard said, so the total is subject to change.

Another funding question related to the project is the possibility of undergrounding utilities along Richmond Highway. The project will already be leaving space in the median for a future bus rapid transit (BRT) system and adding new sidewalks and bike lanes along both sides of the highway, and many local citizens groups and politicians are hoping to get underground utilities to round out the transit-oriented design envisioned.

At this point the widening project is proceeding as though utilities will be above ground, Reinhard said. But that could change if Fairfax County and utility providers end up coming to an agreement about how to pay for undergrounding — something the Board of Supervisors is currently looking at.

Reinhard said that should utilities be undergrounded, it would not affect the overall schedule of the project too much.

“We feel that it’d be fairly minimal to the changes needed to the right-of-way needed [for the state to acquire],” said Reinhard.