Work on the troubled VA hospital replacement project in Aurora, Colo., will likely not stop this weekend as many insiders had feared, if a hastily scheduled U.S. House vote set for late Thursday succeeds in raising the funding cap for the project, currently set at $800 million. The project will reach that cap by this Sunday.
A bill introduced Thursday by U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.)—HR 2496, the Construction Authorization and Choice Improvement Act—will help keep the hospital project from shutting down over the weekend by raising the authorization cap to $900 million.
Recent estimates by the VA and Army Corps of Engineers place the actual long-term cost of the project closer to $1.73 billion, so the VA will need an additional $830 million to finish the facility, money that will likely have to come from Congress.
“I am greatly relieved that we will have more time to negotiate a longer-term deal for the Aurora VA hospital,” Coffman wrote in a statement. “This should never have come to this, but as I have continually said, my first priority has always been to get this hospital built so it can serve the men and women who served this nation.”
Hopes to keep crews working at the site past the Memorial Day holiday had faded mid-week after Speaker John Boehner (Rep.-Ohio) delivered a scathing speech from the House floor that seemed to slam the door on a further funding negotiations between the VA and Congress. “The American people are seeing more of the same,” Boehner said. “And at this point, the VA can’t even build a hospital.”
The project was first shuttered for a few weeks over Christmas while the VA negotiated with its prime contractor, a joint venture of Kiewit-Turner, to reimburse it for $157 million in back payments, as ordered by a federal contracting board.
Estimates from K-T and others said it could cost up to $20 million just to shut the project down now, and as much as $2 million per month to secure it, possibly pushing the eventual price tag up by $200 million. Project officials also warned the VA and Congress that a shutdown would mean losing dozens of key subcontractors who could not be easily be returned to the job later. That alone could cost up to $125 million, they said.
Hundreds of tradespeople work at the site, which will be nearing peak construction soon. K-T also said that the project’s completion, already years past due, would likely be pushed into at least 2018 if there is another work stoppage.