Sustained Outrage

Highway robbery IV

Remember those highway project documents with the handwritten percentages that caused such a stir last week? The governor’s office originally said the number written on each of those sheets shows the percentage of the cost of each project that was consumed by consulting engineering fees.

barrel.jpgTurns out that’s wrong, as many engineers said at the time. The governor’s spokesman Matt Turner says he misunderstood. The percentages written on those pages actually express consulting engineering fees compared to construction costs.

So, for example,  if the sheet says fees were 27 percent, for every $100 the state spent on construction, the project cost another $27 in engineering fees.

That’s a very different number.

Several engineers pointed out that is not the way to calculate and monitor those proportions. Instead, the state should add up the total cost of a project and then calculate the engineer’s share of the whole. That number should fall between 5 and 12 percent, local engineers have said.

For example, the first project cited involved the Williamstown Information Center in Wood County, designed by Alpha Associates, a 40-year-old firm with offices in Morgantown and Martinsburg. As Rick Colebank, president and chief operating officer at Alpha, posted on this blog last week, the total cost of that project was $5.5 million (actually $5,542,237). His firm’s fees were $390,534, or 7 percent of the total, well within the target range. (It’s vastly different from the 64 percent the state calculated to show engineering fees as proportion of construction costs.)

Paul Turman II, deputy commissioner of the state Division of Highways, says he and others at DOH use the other method — expressing engineering fees as a percentage of construction fees. That number, he said, should fall within the range, although the range he mentioned was 7 to 10 percent. Turman also said that there is a difference of opinion about how the rate should be calculated, even within the Division of Highways.