Inspector general delves into 460

Published 11:31 am Saturday, June 21, 2014

By Matthew Ward
Special to The Tidewater News

Virginia’s transportation secretary has asked the state Inspector General’s Office to join its internal review of the Route 460 project.

“Secretary Layne directed VDOT’s Assurance and Compliance Office to conduct a review of the Route 460 P3 project,” department spokeswoman Tamara Rollison said Thursday.

The office’s multi-pronged mission, according to VDOT’s website, includes investigating alleged “fraudulent, illegal and/or inappropriate activities.”

“The Office of the State Inspector General is working with our division to prepare a combined report for Secretary Layne to review this month,” Rollison added.

The purpose of the review, according to Rollison, is to verify that the department and the commonwealth’s Office of Transportation Public-Private Partnerships pursued the 55-mile toll road project, from Suffolk to Petersburg, in accordance with the “comprehensive agreement” the state entered into with US 460 Mobility Partners.

A partnership of Spanish multinational Ferrovial Agroman, S.A. and American Infrastructure, Mobility Partners was signed to design and build the project in December 2012, weeks before the legislative session convened and lawmakers could review the deal.

It went ahead without a re-bid after the McDonnell administration altered the procurement structure, emphasizing tolls and including new public money and bonds, to lure a private sector that was initially cold on the project.

Add to this significant environmental concerns, after the U.S. Corps of Engineers signaled it would be unable to issue a permit for the department’s previous preferred design for the new road, cutting through hundreds of acres of wetlands.

Layne earlier this year froze payments to Mobility Partners, after $300 million was spent despite the lack of a permit from the Corps, and the department is now taking another look at the environmental impact of five different road designs, with the stated intention of re-announcing a preferred alternative by the end of the year.

“It is something that Secretary Layne asked for,” Rollison said of the inspector general joining the departmental probe.

“It’s not an investigation, it’s a review. He wanted to make sure that VDOT was prudent and followed all our own procedures and processes, and that the terms of the comprehensive agreement were followed appropriately and properly.”

Rollison did not know whether the results of the review would be made public. VDOT does not expect to find wrongdoing, she said.

“(But) we also expect the review will identify opportunities for improvement,” Rollison added.

Del. Chris Jones of Suffolk, who as chair of the House Appropriations Committee is also studying what went wrong, why, and where responsibility lies, welcomed the inspector general’s scrutiny.

“Certainly I welcome another layer of scrutiny of this project,” Jones said. “Hopefully it will give some insight into how we have ended up where we are.”