Contractor Misses Deadline

Contractor Misses Deadline

A July 11 deadline for delivering three major bridges has passed.

The general contractor for the final two phases of the Springfield Interchange Project has missed a major milestone and state officials fear a future milestone is also at risk of lapsing.

By July 11, Archer Western, a division of the Chicago-based Walsh Group, was supposed to have delivered three bridges, including a major one connecting I-395 South to the Outer Loop of I-495, heading east toward the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, to the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT). That deadline has passed, and now VDOT officials are concerned about delays to those bridges stretching into the fall, as well as delays to another major milestone in the fall.

"We have taken steps to inform the contractor of our concerns and potential actions and tools we have to ensure his attention," said Steve Titunik, communications director for the Springfield Interchange Project. "We need to take action now, rather than sit around and see what happens."

Titunik said VDOT has requested a response from Archer Western by Friday, July 15, in which the contractor must outline their plan to make up the lost time on the project.

"We want to see what it's going to take to right this ship, and then we'll look at it and make our estimation. If it's not a good plan, in the worst case, we could drop the hammer and default them," said Titunik. "We don't really want to go there."

OFFICIALS FOR ARCHER WESTERN, whose Virginia Regional Office is based in Richmond, could not be reached for comment about the delays.

After successful completion by three other contractors of the first five phases of the eight-year, $676-million Interchange project, Archer Western began work on phases VI and VII in 2003, after winning a $99.8 million bid award on Sept. 17. These phases are the final two of the project, which has previously included work on local roads, as well as additional bridge construction.

"This is the kind of situation you never want to be in. You fervently hope that this contractor will step up, submit a real action plan backed up by resources and bodies and what's necessary to make a real stab at recovering these milestones," said Larry Cloyed, project manager for VDOT.

In November, a third milestone is scheduled to be reached, which will open a major bridge linking I-95 South to the Outer Loop of I-495. The entire project is currently scheduled for total completion in spring, 2007.

THIS WEEK'S PROBLEMS are not the first with Archer Western. In February, VDOT levied a $110,000 fine when the contractor was late in reopening several lanes of the Capital Beltway following overnight steel hanging work. That bridge was part of the second milestone, which the contractor missed this week.

"I think it comes down to senior management oversight. The crews are out there working. It's 90 degrees, and you've got guys out there doing their best. We feel that there's some senior management oversight that needs more attention," said Titunik, who said VDOT had been concerned for the past year about the rate at which Archer Western was using up "float time," which is built into a contract to allow for natural delays.

"The amount of tasks being accomplished weren't matching up with the pace of construction we had in mind," said Titunik. "However, you have to wait until you get to a point of no return where you see a deadline coming, until you take action."

Officials with VDOT will review Archer Western's action plan, then decide whether to leave the contractor in place. A worst case scenario would default the company on the contract, and bring in another contractor.

"It's a disappointing outcome. On the other hand, it would be wrong for me to speculate, given this last opportunity, what they're going to do," said Cloyed. "It may not be hopeless."