Airport faces audit over rental car site

The projected cost of a new tramway and rental car center for Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport has soared as much as 30 percent, leading the Atlanta City Council to seek an outside auditor to find out what went wrong.

Airport General Manager Ben DeCosta said he has a pretty good idea what the auditor will find, saying he welcomes the oversight.

"I got approval from the council before I knew what the market would give us," DeCosta said in an interview Monday after the council vote. "The market turns out to be far in excess of what my engineers estimated."

Two years ago, DeCosta told the council, which oversees the city-owned airport, that the Consolidated Rental Car Facility would cost about $211 million, including the elevated tram that will connect with the airport on the other side of I-85. Costs have now risen to about $235 million, and the price could hit $275 million after final construction contracts are approved, DeCosta said.

"It turns out the market sees this job different than my estimators did," DeCosta said. "I won't know a final price until all the bids come in."

The rental car facility was scheduled to open in December 2008. The facility, which will replace rental car operations inside the airport, is now slated for a 2009 opening.

Councilwoman Felicia Moore called for the audit last week after DeCosta told the Finance Committee that he probably will need more money. She said she wants the audit in hand before DeCosta officially asks. DeCosta said he expects to file a request for up to $40 million by Labor Day.

Moore said she has no reason to doubt the information from DeCosta.

"But I need to verify the information they are giving," Moore said. "Information is great, with verification."

Part of the auditor's job will be to review the airport's construction practices to determine whether they are the best way to get a job done, Moore said.

DeCosta said last week that this project is being managed by a construction manager who hires subcontractors and oversees their work. Moore said that in other projects, the city has hired a single company, or consortium, to design, build and operate a facility.

Moore said this is not the first time the council has faced cost overruns at the airport, and she wants to ensure the council gets the best information possible.

DeCosta said he welcomes the audit.

"I think the audit, if it's done well, will be as much of an aid to me as it is to the council," he said. "You have experienced people who will look at things and give me an independent view.

"Throughout my career I have had experience with auditors, and I always look at them as a positive thing."

WHERE THE PLAN STANDS

The project:

Rental car facility across I-85 from the airport, connected by a new airport train line.

The costs:

Original approval: $211 million

To-date changes: $235 million (up 12% over original)

Projected final: $275 million (up 30% over original)

Opening:

Tentatively, summer 2009



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