HOUSTON – "At the rate we are going, we are spending a lot of money with not a lot to show for it," the City of Houston controller said.
Last fall, Channel 2 Investigates first exposed the challenges regarding delays and rising costs for a new international terminal project at Bush Intercontinental Airport. The project was announced with much fanfare in the summer of 2014. The original price tag was between $700 million to $900 million. Five years later, there is still no terminal. However, the project has since increased in cost to $1.2 billion.
How much spent thus far?
Financials provided to Channel 2 Investigates by the Houston Airport System show $111 million in public money has been spent. There is a total of $258 million dollars in purchase orders involving various contracts. Program management is a popular "scope of work" in the financial documents. Turner and Townsend, Houston Aviation Alliance and Parsons and HJ Russell have received more than $60 million.
A city official said services include oversight as well as architectural work, designs, engineering, construction and consulting.
What is airport leadership saying?
Houston Airport System Aviation Director Mario Diaz walked out of an interview with Channel 2 Investigates in December. Diaz is still avoiding us and is refusing all requests to sit down for an interview. Instead, he sent a subordinate to face the music. Our first question asked to Bill Begley, interim communications director, focused on details surrounding the Houston Aviation Alliance.
"I'm not sure if I know what you are talking about as far as Houston Aviation Alliance goes, give me some specifics," Begley said.
Seconds into our interview, the person Diaz said could answer all of our questions is asking Channel 2 Investigates for specifics.
The records Begley’s team provided Channel 2 Investigates in July show that Houston Aviation Alliance has billed $25 million for the project since 2015. City records show two public relations firms -- Hill Day and Vesta Rea and Associates -- help make up the company.
When asked what two public relations firms have to do with construction, Begley said, "Well again, that is a part of the Houston Airport Alliance.”
Channel 2 Investigates reminded him it's actually called the Houston Aviation Alliance. We asked, specifically, what is there to promote if there is no building? Begley said, “They're promoting the project."
Where do things stand?
When asked about the lack of construction last fall, Mayor Sylvester Turner said, "I did not have a great deal of confidence in what was before me when I came in."
Where are things now?
The Houston Airport System and City Hall are still attempting to get their act together to finalize a plan five years after the city announced the project. Begley told Channel 2 Investigates, "If you have the plans you can move forward, and that is what we have been focusing on ... getting the plans finalized and moving forward."
What is Turner saying?
Turner, like Diaz, refused a one-on-one interview with Channel 2 Investigates.
In fact, when we attempted to ask Turner about “airport expenditures,” Turner ignored our inquiry.
If Turner isn't talking, what are others saying?
Turner is busy. After all, it is an election year. However, some of his opponents have a lot to say about the stalled project and soaring costs.
- ”I'd replace the Aviation Director,” mayoral candidate Bill King said. “Look, there is just all sorts of evidence that this has not been working out for a number of years."
- "Well, it wouldn't go on my watch this way because you would make certain that this stuff is vetted,” mayoral candidate Dwight Boykins said.
- "I think I would look and see where the waste is, what is the soonest that we can do to get this up and going and the soonest to get it complete," mayoral candidate Sue Lovell said.
- "I would fire the airport director immediately. I would have a full audit done of all money spent so far and how we are going to spend ... going forward immediately," mayoral candidate Tony Buzbee said.
Investigative reporter Mario Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.