CHARLOTTE, N.C. - A Channel 9 investigation uncovered construction on major roads in the Charlotte region, such as Interstate 85, Interstate 77 and Independence Boulevard could take millions more of your tax dollars than expected.
Frank Doggett said he drives I-77 every day.
To get a feel for his commute, Channel 9 buckled in and rode with him on a typical, weekday morning.
“It’s a constantly moving and shifting, living beast just trying to drive this,” Doggett said from the driver’s seat as he gestured to all the construction equipment around him.
Before construction on I-77 started, Doggett said his drive took about 30 minutes, but now it takes up to an hour.
Louis Mitchell, the head engineer for North Carolina Department of Transportation in the Charlotte region, said he knows transportation can affect every part of our life.
Mitchell said, “We want the public to trust that we’re doing with their resources what they’ve asked.”
Road projects routinely exceed their budgets, so Mitchell said NCDOT always budgets an extra 3 percent, which is why the following findings are so surprising.
Channel 9 obtained state records and discovered six of the eight major projects in the Charlotte metro aren't just 3 percent over budget.
One phase of I-85 is projected to exceed its original contract amount by nearly 30 percent.
The I-40 interchange improvements at I-77 are nearly 20 percent over budget right now.
I-77's overruns are clocking in at nearly 18 percent.
Independence Boulevard is more than 7.5 percent over budget, according to the state’s latest numbers.
In the high country, one phase of Highway 221 is nearly 25 percent higher than its original contract amount and Highway 321 is more than 19 percent over budget.
Channel 9 discovered all of that will cost taxpayers an extra $165 million.
Reporter Mark Barber asked Mitchell, “Is the state keeping its promises to drivers?"
Mitchell said, “We are keeping our promises. In some of these overruns we have tangible additions.”
>> Reading this story in our app? The new "Follow the Lead" feature allows you to tap the blue tag indicated with a '+' to subscribe to alerts on the very latest breaking news updates.
Mitchell said millions of dollars get added to projects when crews realize they need to add major upgrades, such as extra lanes or bridges.
"Labor demands, fuel prices, unexpected problems and needs drive costs up." Mitchell continued, “We want to be, certainly responsible stewards for the taxpayer’s investments. We want to invest smartly. When we do add on the scope of projects we do want to make sure we’re getting a good business value.”
Now, here’s where all of this really starts to matter: Your commute.
Here’s how it works.
If other state projects that are under budget don’t cover the costs for the over-budget projects, the quality of your commute could get worse.
The state said it is building its first continuous flow intersection at Mount Holly-Huntersville Road and Brookshire Boulevard in west Charlotte.
Mitchell said money for smarter intersections like that could be taken away if state projects that are under budget don’t make up for the ones that are over budget.
Mitchell also said NCDOT could also take away funds for highway resurfacing and restriping to offset overruns.
He told Channel 9 it isn't something they plan to do, but he said they can do it if costs don't level out.
Barber took that response back to Doggett and asked, “Do you think that’s a good way to do business?”
Doggett responded, “No. It’s robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
Doggett said he survives traffic on I-77 with one foot on the brake, and he's now questioning if the state is using that same caution.
“In real life if you go anywhere over budget somebody has to be held accountable,” he said.
A NCDOT spokesperson in Raleigh said the department can’t say whether projects, such as highway resurfacing, will lose funding to cover the overruns because NCDOT won't know the final cost of construction until everything is finished.
NCDOT said it still hopes it will be able to balance the budget because it has managed to stay within 2 percent of its budget in the past by utilizing under-budget projects statewide to offset overruns.
© 2019 Cox Media Group.