More trouble looming for VDOT; millions @ stake
This time in southwest Virginia

I-81 - VDOT's 'Highway from Hell' in Bristol

Senior VDOT Inspector Dave Harless from Abingdon abruptly resigned Friday amid a growing investigation and scandal involving a costly 5-mile section of I-81.  Millions of dollars are in jeopardy, a source said, because of mismanagement and contract abuse.

"The case of the flat-paved section of I-64 in Hampton is nothing compared to the waste and potential in the I-81 case," a source said.  "I-64 is chump change compared to I-81's problems VDOT has," the source added.

For two years or more a criminal investigation has been underway by Attorney General Jerry Kilgore's office, but no action has been taken.

Virginia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Brenda Waters confirmed  Harless's resignation Friday afternoon .  She would not confirm that VDOT was searching his computer for I-81 - 'Highway from Hell' - files when they discovered pornographic material.  Harless was identified by one source as the on-sight project director of I-81.

Asked if he was asked to resigned, Ms. Waters said, "It is inappropriate for me to discuss any personnel matters involving any employees."

However, Virginia News Source, had been tipped off, 3 days before asking Ms. Waters, that Harless 'had been fired' because of explicit material found on a VDOT computer during a search for files and documents.  He turned in his resignation on Friday and quit, Ms. Waters said.  "I can tell you he was not fired."  

Asked if he was given an option be fired or resigned, she said, "It would be inappropriate for me to discuss that."

Harless' boss, District Administrator Dan Marston, 'retired' in December, after being placed on 'special assignment' in October.  None of the employees seemed to know 'what his special assignment was', however.  He'd been DA since the mid-90s, a source said.

VDOT Commish Shucet

Another man, identified as Jim Givens, a close associate of VDOT commissioner Phil Shucet, was quickly brought into the Abingdon office as DA in what some believe is a precursor to 'cleaning house' of some VDOT employees associated with the I-81 fiasco.  "Nobody knows what he (Givens) is really doing.  He appears to report directly to Shucet and he is only going to stay until the end of this year.'  Other heads are expected to roll, either voluntarily or by force, a source said.

Givens is only in the district once or twice every couple of weeks, according to a source.  He spends rest of his time in Richmond.

Shucet was personally in the Bristol office on Oct. 23rd and 24th.  According to a source, funds for I-81 had been approved and spent by VDOT, but the records to document them had not been found.  These are the records the feds are demanding before agreeing to release funds to the state.  I-81's original cost was projected to be $40.4 MILLION, but a year ago, it had exceeded $61 MILLION.

Shucet sent in a team of 'auditors,' to hunt down the facts and records.

According to sources, a major VDOT internal investigation is underway of the I-81 project that covered 5 miles and took almost 5 years to complete. The total cost probably still isn't in, but earlier figures indicated it cost more than $12.2 MILLION a mile to construction - at a mile per year.

Ms. Waters confirmed that a contractor had been hired 'to help' VDOT 'review' the I-81 project. (This is a VDOT investigation, separate from the criminal investigation).

Part of the problem arose because the project was handled at different times by the Bristol district and Abingdon VDOT offices. "I've been told that Bristol did not keep any records of its part of the project.  And I've been told that the federal government says that if the state can't produce the documents, there'll be no federal funding."

This was a major problem Shucet has faced since taking over the clannish, incompetent state bureaucracy.  "It's a culture where everyone in a position of responsibility has covered their ass with a memo and they can then point the finger to others as being responsible and not them - they did their job:  They wrote a memo and stuck it in a file someplace." 

"The Commish (as Shucet is known) has his work cut out for him down there (in southwest Virginia)," the source said.

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