published Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

VW work facing crunch time

Audio clip

Steve Leach

An array of construction is under way in and around the Volkswagen assembly plant as the schedule starts to tighten to ready the factory, nearby roads and rail lines.

While the plant isn't slated to start production for about a year, time is looming more critically, officials say.

"This is when it's really a time crunch," said Steve Leach, the city's public works administrator, to Chattanooga's Industrial Development Board.

Volkswagen officials said construction of the $1 billion, 1.9-million-square-foot plant is on track. The facility's $40 million training center is already partially in use even as builders install more equipment and undertake the structure's final fit-out.

"The big stuff gets done. The buildings get dried in, but there's a lot piece work going on right now that driving everybody more crazy," Mr. Leach said. "Things still are going well."

He said he was at the Enterprise South industrial park site at about 7:30 p.m. Monday and there were still many builders at work.

"There are a lot of second-shift folks out there really making this happen," Mr. Leach said.

Ted Mills, the development board's chairman, raised questions about the status of work on the rail lines leading into the plant and steps to help move auto traffic around the plant.

Mr. Leach said efforts to expand rail lines over Bonny Oaks Drive to the plant are key.

PUBLIC VW PLANT SPENDING

Project; grant money; spent/committed so far:*

* Site preparation -- $79.6 million; 91.3 percent

* Infrastructure (state) -- $70 million; 83.9 percent

* Training center -- $40 million; 92.1 percent

* Infrastructure (city/county) -- $40 million; 66.9 percent

* Welcome Center -- $6 million; 0 percent

* Marketing/public relations -- $200,000; 87.2 percent

* Total -- $235 million, 82.8 percent

Source: City Industrial Development Board

*Does not include $10.2 million not administered by IDB

"The issue with the rail is critical," he said.

Mr. Leach also said a partial gravel base is going down on the parkway that will lead from Interstate 75 to the plant, as well as the extension of Enterprise South Boulevard.

Paving is to be underway when the weather starts to warm, officials said.

Work at the on-site fire hall is progressing as that building is going vertical, Mr. Leach said.

"They're getting the steel up," he said. "It's nice to see that going in place."

In addition, VW is developing a supplier park adjacent to its plant. Gestamp Corp., another VW supplier, is building its own parts stamping factory in the industrial park.

The VW factory is to produce a new midsize sedan and employ over 2,000 workers.

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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