Wagner criticizes North Shore subway cost increases

Calls for audit after mistake adds $1.2M

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State Auditor General Jack Wagner criticized Port Authority officials on Thursday for a mistake in design specifications that added $1.2 million to the cost of a North Shore Connector construction contract.

"The continuation of overruns and flaws in the project is beyond any standard of acceptability," said Mr. Wagner, who intends to audit the project later this year.

Authority officials said Wednesday that design specifications for cable and wiring in three stations did not meet National Fire Protection Association standards, and that correcting the mistake would add $1.2 million to a contract with Wellington Power Corp., a 31 percent increase.

Some of the substandard wiring had already been installed and had to be removed. Winston Simmonds, the authority's rail operations/engineering officer, said the mistake was made by AECOM, the project's design consultant.

Port Authority officials said they intend to seek reimbursement from the company or its insurer for any costs resulting from the error.

Mr. Wagner objected to Mr. Simmonds' assertion that such errors are "not unusual in construction."

"This is unusual in construction. NFPA standards are the rule. It's an absolute. I don't know how you can miss on adhering to NFPA standards," the auditor general said. "I find that unacceptable."

"Port Authority also finds it unacceptable," authority spokesman Jim Ritchie responded, "which is why we're seeking reimbursement from the company responsible for the erroneous information in the drawings."

Mr. Wagner said his staff would focus on the $528.8 million connector project, which is extending the Downtown subway by 1.2 miles to the North Shore, when the authority comes up for its regular state audit toward the end of the year.

"This project is way out of control," he said, citing inflation that has occurred since the price was estimated at $390 million in 2001.

Mr. Ritchie noted that the project cost has decreased by $25 million in the past year. The increases before that were caused by skyrocketing materials costs that affected construction projects nationwide.

"We're happy to explain this situation in more detail and we certainly welcome his next audit of Port Authority," he said.

Mr. Wagner has been a longtime critic of the connector project. As a state senator, he opposed building tunnels from Gateway Center to the North Shore, saying the extension should have gone from Steel Plaza to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center and crossed the Allegheny River on a bridge.

That option had been studied by the authority and rejected as no less expensive but much less practical than the tunnel route.

Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868. Visit "The Roundabout," the Post-Gazette's transportation blog, at post-gazette.com.


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