COUNTYWIDE : Costs Soar for Some Airport Projects

A flood of costly change orders has pushed portions of the John Wayne Airport expansion far above their original price estimates, with some aspects of the project now more than 300% over budget, according to airport documents obtained Thursday.

Contractors involved in the massive public works project have submitted more than 500 change orders, the documents show. Although the county has rejected many and reduced others, a few areas of the project still are grappling with skyrocketing costs.

Nevertheless, county officials said they still do not expect the overall cost of the expansion program--which includes a $60-million terminal, new roads, freeway ramps, garages and taxiways--to exceed the $310 million approved by county supervisors two years ago. Some parts of the expansion program remain below their original budgets, and damages will be assessed against contractors that failed to meet deadlines, officials said.

The biggest price increases at the airport so far have been rung up by Geofon Inc., a firm hired to remove contaminated ground water discovered more than two years ago. Special pumping and treatment equipment has been needed, and the company's contract has jumped from $750,000 to nearly $3.4 million.

Smith & Emery, the firm responsible for on-site inspections and testing, has registered the second-highest increase, going from about $1 million to more than $3.5 million, an increase of 251%.

Prime contractor Taylor Woodrow Construction California Ltd., which was fired from a $25-million parking garage contract last week, has submitted more than 300 change orders on the new passenger terminal, the other project that it contracted to build. But many of the company's change orders have been rejected by the county, and as a result it only has received a net 1.9% increase in its contract, from $58.9 million to about $60 million.

Taylor Woodrow officials declined comment Thursday.

Supervisor Thomas F. Riley, whose district includes the airport, said he was not surprised to hear that some aspects of the project were running over budget, as they have for months.

"I'd be more surprised if some of this didn't happen," Riley said. "I keep getting assurances from other contractors that these kinds of things are relatively common in a project of this size."

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