Renovation and repair work on the Interstate 70 Wheeling Tunnel was supposed to cost $5.7 million. When the project is (finally) completed this fall, the price tag will total $13.7 million, according to the West Virginia Division of Highways.
Taxpayers are uncomfortably accustomed to cost overruns on government projects. Still, the tunnel cost - a whopping 240 percent of the original estimate - should raise eyebrows. The $8 million in unanticipated spending is enough to have funded a major highway improvement elsewhere in our area.
The tunnel has proven to be an albatros around the necks of DOH officials. The story of lengthy delays and dramatic cost overruns when work was in progress in the eastbound tube is all-too-familiar to them. Fortunately, with a different contractor in place, the westbound tube project seems to be going much more smoothly.
It is true that unexpected problems, including discovery of an old, abandoned mine about the tunnel, have plagued the project. In addition, "add-ons" such as a $300,000 "incident detection system" have boosted the price.
Yet both DOH officials and state legislators should be wondering just how the cost exploded to the current estimate.
DOH officials have been tight-lipped about some problems at the tunnel, in part because of disputes with the original, now replaced main contractor. Once the project is finished, however, the agency should provide legislators with an explanation of what went wrong.
West Virginia cannot afford to spend money unwisely. More information about spending on the tunnel project may reveal mistakes that could be avoided in the future. Lawmakers should insist on an accounting from the DOH.