Board calls for audit on airport project

Construction delays and cost overruns at a future rental car facility at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport prompted the City Council's Finance Committee to call Wednesday for an audit of the building program.

The rental car facility is to provide garage parking for 1,800 vehicles across I-85 from the airport. A train will whisk car renters between the airport and the parking facility, which was scheduled to open in December 2008.

The project has been plagued by delays in the design, and now is to open in summer 2009, Ben DeCosta, the airport's general manager, said Wednesday.

The $211 million construction cost the council approved in 2005 has risen to $235.6 million. Now the price could hit $275 million, after final construction contracts are approved by Labor Day, DeCosta said.

That's too high for Councilwoman Felicia Moore, who represents a district in west Atlanta. She submitted, and the Finance Committee approved, legislation to hire an outside consultant to review spending. The measure is to be considered May 21 by the City Council.

"I want to understand where we are now, before we go hundreds of millions of dollars over budget," Moore said.

DeCosta literally ate a hat shaped like a construction helmet --- and made of devil's-food cake --- during the council's Transportation Committee meeting earlier Wednesday, when the rental car facility was discussed.

"When Felicia Moore asked me last year if I'd be back for more money, I said that if I do I'll eat my hat," DeCosta said. "I thought we could get it done for $235 million."

DeCosta said he supports the independent review of the construction project. He also endorsed a proposal to transfer a big piece of the project to a joint venture business led by Archer Western Contractors. DeCosta said the company has a track record of finishing projects on schedule and within budget. The current contract calls for the Archer Western consortium to build the train and another company to build the stations.

Because of the construction delays, the two companies would have been working in the same area, creating undue safety risks and problems coordinating the job, DeCosta said.

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