Gov. Peter Shumlin and Administration Officials delivered good news today, announcing reduced Agency of Transportation damage estimates in response to Tropical Storm Irene. VTrans, which initially believed the cost of repairing all roads, culverts and bridges on the state system could exceed $600 million, now estimates the actual cost will be between $175 million and $250 million.
The agency revised its estimate following two intense months of conducting repairs to more than 500 miles of state highway and some 200 state-owned bridges. The new estimate is based on Federal Highway's Detailed Damage Inspection Report (DDIR) process and includes a contingency for unknown costs and spring repairs.
"This is great news for Vermont taxpayers," said Governor Peter Shumlin. "Not only are we recovering from Irene faster than anyone expected, we are also conducting repairs at a cost considerably less than anyone expected."
Administration officials explained that there are a variety of factors that account for the higher initial estimate.
* Standard vs. Emergency Construction: Our engineers are trained to estimate construction costs based on standard construction practices, not emergency construction practices. Normal estimates include lengthy and sometimes costly processes, such as federal and state permitting, utility relocation, environmental mitigation, design reviews, planning, scoping, municipal coordination, survey, right-of-way acquisition and legal proceedings, etc. These are part of the standard roadway process but were not a part of the emergency response during a declared state of emergency.
Significantly, during Irene recovery, much of the work was done while roads were closed. This removed the timely and costly burden of trying to accommodate traffic and heavy equipment through work zones. It also eliminated the mobilization/demobilization that occurs on many "normal" construction projects when you need to reopen roads at the end of each day.
* Vermont Strong: VTrans original estimates were based on standard construction practices, and didn't anticipate the collaborative spirit and sense of urgency that Vermonters shared during this emergency. Irene drove people to work harder, faster, and to use innovation to get the job done more expeditiously. VTrans repaired over 500 miles of damaged road and opened 32 bridges in just 2 months; this was done in large part from the sense of urgency and teamwork that the estimators could not have foreseen. Nobody would have ever guessed we could accomplish so much in such a short amount of time, not even us.
"We cannot emphasize enough that these are only estimates, and continue to be volatile and subject to change," said Deputy Secretary Sue Minter. "There are Irene related projects that will not be completed for years and we expect our construction costs to change through time, although we do not expect them to exceed $250 million."
To account for new issues that the Administration anticipates may emerge over the coming months and years, a contingency reserve has been added to current estimates. This reserve will address issues that may arise in the design of permanent repairs, plus work that may need to be redone from spring high water and roadway settlement. There are numerous concerns with river stability and debris as related to sink holes, slides,
While the revised construction estimate is good news for Vermont, Governor Shumlin emphasized that repairs related to Irene are still projected to exceed the amount that Vermont would normally spend during an entire highway construction season. As a result, help from Congress is still needed to ensure the heroic work conducted this fall does not have lasting financial consequences that impede the state's ability to properly maintain its roads, culverts and bridges into the future.
"The news today is good, but I caution that we are not out of the woods yet," Governor Shumlin said. "The magnitude of what happened to us is still enormous, and we will need help from our federal partners to recover properly."