It takes more than asphalt, concrete and orange cones to widen Warwick Boulevard.
It also takes six legal firms or researchers at a cost of $179,549, with one of the lawyers who is working for the state embroiled in bankruptcy proceedings.
Securing easements, buying property and undertaking eminent domain proceedings is one of the hidden costs - albeit a fraction of the overall expenditures - of adding two lanes to Warwick Boulevard.
While the cost of hiring lawyers is relatively tiny in the Warwick Boulevard project - well over $70 million for construction and land and easement acquisitions - eminent domain proceedings can drag on and even go to trial, increasing the costs to the state by tens of thousands of dollars in some cases.
Virginia Department of Transportation records show that the now-defunct Portsmouth law firm of Carr & Porter was paid $67,292, the highest amount for legal work in connection with the Warwick Boulevard project.
The Newport News firm of Stein & Smith received $41,457. Two other firms, Short Short Telstead & Kerr in Newport News and Knicely & Associates in Williamsburg, received another $64,000.
In addition, VDOT paid $6,700 to two people for title searches, records show.
VDOT pays $185 per hour for attorneys in eminent domain cases, said Courtney Malveaux, deputy counsel to the attorney general. The going rate for eminent domain lawyers in private practice can be $300 to $400 per hour, said David Clementson, spokesman for the Virginia Attorney General's office.
The lawyers are hired through so-called solicitations for proposals. Lawyers list their qualifications, whether they are insured and other information that transportation officials use to recommend to the attorney general's office on whom to hire, Malveaux said.
The state has about five dozen firms handling eminent domain cases across the state, Clementson said.
Eminent domain is the legal term for the right of the state or federal government to take private property for a public purpose even over the objections of property owners.
VDOT has spent about $30 million on land acquisitions and easements for the Warwick project. But the transportation department's budget for property acquisition on Warwick Boulevard is $43.2 million, though the agency may not spend that much.
One of the lawyers for Carr & Porter, Kelly Daniels Sheeran, was working for the firm and had bought it with another lawyer from J. Ridgely Porter.
The details of the financial issues that resulted in the breakup of Carr & Porter aren't clear. But Sheeran has worked eminent domain cases for VDOT for years and now finds herself in the courtroom for another reason, Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings.
Attempts to reach Sheeran were unsuccessful.
Sheeran listed assets of $564,000, most of it tied up in the value of her Virginia Beach home, according to documents filed in Virginia Eastern Federal District court. Her debts topped $1.1 million, including $744,500 in a promissory note to attorneys J. Ridgely Porter and Delaine Porter.
Attempts to reach the Porters for comment were unsuccessful.
"We're not going to comment on an attorney's personal life," Clementson said. "If it becomes evident that the quality of work becomes affected or impacted, then that would raise an issue."
But Sheeran has been effective for the state, he said. "She's done her job," Clementson said.
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