RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Virginia State Police are conducting a criminal investigation of possible contracting abuses and procurement irregularities in the $585 million rebuilding of the "Mixing Bowl" interchange in Springfield, state officials said Tuesday.
In an interview with The Associated Press late Tuesday, Col. W. Gerald Massengill, state police superintendent, confirmed the existence of the investigation but declined to discuss its details.
"What I acknowledge is the fact that there's an ongoing investigation by our agency and other agencies," Massengill said. "This is investigation has been ongoing for several months."
Massengill declined to say what other agencies were involved.
Officials described the investigation to The Washington Post as wide-ranging and not confined to state contracts and government purchases of materials for the mammoth reconfiguration of one of the East Coast's most notorious bottlenecks. The officials spoke on the condition that they not be identified by name or agency.
The rebuilding of the junction of Interstates 95, 395 and 495 is already the focus of a separate audit by the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Transportation, which a top federal official said today should be completed within weeks. The audit was requested by U.S. Rep. James P. Moran Jr., D-Va., in July 2000 after numerous reports about construction delays and cost overruns on the project.
Shortly after taking office this year, Gov. Mark R. Warner ordered a state audit of Virginia's Department of Transportation, which he said faces a severe cash shortage, in part because of poor management practices at the agency.
One senior Warner administration official said the Mixing Bowl project had generated 20 to 30 official complaints to the state, several of them having to do with contract awards, which could have prompted a routine review by VDOT and subsequently by the state police.
Such complaints would not be unusual for a project as large as the reconstruction of the Springfield interchange, which handles 400,000 vehicles on busy weekdays.
A spokesman for Warner said the administration learned of the investigation Tuesday.
"The previous administration was told of the investigation several months ago and did not inform us," spokesman Kevin Hall told The Associated Press on Tuesday night. "We learned about it today, and the governor intends to get a full briefing from the State Police."
Hall said no such briefing had been set up as of Tuesday night.
Massengill said he has not discussed the investigation with Warner.
"There's a process by which my office appropriately keeps the governor's office aware of criminal investigations involving state agencies," he said. "And that process was followed in this particular situation."
Although VDOT has won some praise for minimizing disruptions during the Mixing Bowl road work, the project has been plagued for several years by delays and overruns, including a 45 percent increase in its estimated cost two years ago.
The jump in the estimated cost was a factor in Moran's request to the federal auditor to investigate VDOT's management of the Springfield project.