Saturday, January 18, 2003
Fluor Virginia consortium says it can widen highway faster, at lower cost than rival can
2nd group has designs on I-81
The group's proposal saves money by building in the median instead of widening the highway, a spokesman said.
By RAY REED
THE ROANOKE TIMES
A second group of road-building companies said Friday that it can widen Interstate 81 faster and for less money than other builders.
Fluor Virginia Inc. said it can add two car-only lanes in the median of I-81 for $1.8 billion by 2011 and pay for it entirely with tolls on cars and trucks.
Fluor's proposal to the Virginia Department of Transportation competes with one filed a day earlier by Star Solutions. Both Fluor and Star are consortiums of contractors, engineers and financiers headed by some of the nation's largest corporations. The price difference is almost $4.5 billion.
Star Solutions proposed to rebuild I-81 to eight lanes in a wider path; Fluor Virginia proposed to add one lane each way within existing right of way.
The proposals were alike in that both would widen all 325 miles of I-81 in Virginia and that both would pay for it, at least partly, with tolls.
The primary differences are the number of lanes and the price. Fluor's lowest figure was $1.8 billion; Star's low figure was $6.25 billion. The cost for both would go up if Virginia wanted the consortiums to maintain the pavement after construction.
Other key elements included financing methods and safety features. Here's how they looked on several comparison points:
Tolls: Star Solutions - Trucks only, amount unknown.
Fluor Virginia - 10 cents per mile for trucks, 3 cents for cars.
Additional financing: Star Solutions - Federal funds plus $168 million from Virginia.
Fluor Virginia - No tax dollars.
Safety features: Star Solutions - Truck lanes, separated from car lanes by concrete barriers.
Fluor Virginia - Car lane, enforced by law enforcement.
Timetable: Star Solutions - complete by 2018.
Fluor Virginia - complete by 2011.
Rail component: Star Solutions - yes.
Fluor Virginia - yes.
Smart-highway features: Star Solutions: yes.
Fluor Virginia: yes.
Fluor Virginia spokesman James Carroll of Greenville, S.C., said the group's proposal saves money by building in the median instead of widening the highway. It would use existing bridges at many locations and wouldn't rebuild interchanges.
Fluor's faster construction plan would improve I-81 safety sooner, Carroll said.
Carroll said no toll would be charged for people who commute to work in Botetourt, Roanoke and Montgomery counties.
The car tolls would apply to through traffic and, though they are not allowed under current law, Carroll said "there seems to be a willingness to do those kind of things" among legislators and other decision makers.
Getting the General Assembly to change that law during an election year may be a formidable task, however, Carroll said.
Tolls would be collected at three plazas: near the state lines at Bristol and Winchester, and at a midpoint north of Roanoke.
Fluor Virginia plans to raise the construction capital by selling bonds that would be repaid by tolls. Bond investors, such as major insurance companies, would bear all consequences if the tolls failed to produce the anticipated revenue, Carroll said.
A group of truckers and industrial shippers called Smart Solutions all but endorsed the Fluor Virginia proposal, calling it a "big step in the right direction" and "more equitable and fair" than the Star Solutions plan.
Jay Smith, spokesman for Smart Solutions, said Fluor "implemented some of our ideas" into its proposal. Smith said truckers still hope to negotiate the terms so they can pay their share of the cost through "traditional highway user fees" instead of tolls.
Another group also weighed in to the discussion Friday.
Identifying itself as Concerned Community Groups from Bristol to Winchester, an association of about five activist groups in the I-81 corridor said it was "appealing for a full public consideration of alternatives including freight rail, passenger rail and changes in land development."
Primary members of the two consortiums include:
Star Solutions: Halliburton Kellogg Brown & Root, Koch Performance Roads, Adams Construction Co., APAC construction, Wilbur Smith Associates planners, W-L Construction, Lehman Brothers and Salomon Smith Barney.
Fluor Virginia: Shirley Contracting Co., Gilbert Southern Corp., Granite Construction Co., Lane Construction Co., Jacobs Engineering, four design companies, and Bear Stearns & Co. Fluor Virginia is an arm of Fluor Daniels, a large construction company based in South Carolina.