DIA project may swell $100 million over budget, Denver auditor says

Photo: New DIA plaza
An artist's rendering of the new plaza at Denver International Airport.

Denver International Airport hasn't adequately controlled costs or brought construction expertise to a new hotel and transit project, according to a report released Thursday by the Denver City Auditor. Those oversights could cause the project to cost $100 million more than expected.

“I am very disturbed that the cost of this project may balloon to over $599 million,” Auditor Dennis Gallagher in a statement released before a Thursday hearing on the budget. “Had the recommendations we made in our original [2012] audit been fully implemented we might not being seeing this budget inflation.".

The new light rail station and 519-room Westin hotel, originally projected to cost $500 million back in 2011, are expected to be completed by 2016.

The auditor’s report noted, in particular, the lack of an independent construction consultant to help manage project costs.

Kim Day, the airport’s chief executive, agreed with that assessment.

“You know, every project is different. I think looking back, would that have been a good thing? Yeah, and we’ve learned,” Day said.

The audit also noted expensive contracts with construction firms as a key reason for inflated budget. Day said Thursday that those contracts are actually within industry norms, considering the strict timelines for completion.

The higher cost of the project has mainly been caused by an improving economy that drove up labor and material costs, Day said. She promised that the auditor’s recommendations, such as maintaining proper records for the project, would be implemented within 90 days.

Gallagher asked Day at the hearing if elected officials, including Mayor Michael Hancock, should be responsible for cost overruns.

“The entire buck stops with me,” Day said.