County bridge project held up

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 27, 2005

MARION–An Alabama Department of Transportation project to replace two of Perry County’s oldest wooden bridges has been delayed, ALDOT says, by an error by the local paper in running the required legal notice.

According to a press release issued by ALDOT, the mistake “leaves transportation officials no choice but to pull a project to replace two aging, wooden bridges in Perry County from the May 27 bid opening. Now, rather than July, it will be at least August or September before construction can begin.”

The bridges are part of Perry County Road 46 and traverse a waterway known as Mud Creek.

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The opening of bids for all ALDOT contracts must be announced in the local paper, but the release states that in the Perry County case the notification never appeared. The snafu illustrates, ALDOT says, the need for legislation that would allow the agency to move forward with the awarding of contracts in situations like these.

“Alabama Department of Transportation officials discovered the publishing mistake on Tuesday, May 17,” the release reads, “one day after a bill died in the Alabama Senate that would have allowed the Department to avoid delays after newspaper publishing mistakes.”

ALDOT spokesman Tony Harris says that the bill’s intent is not, as some might feel, to allow the agency to dodge their responsibility of keeping the public and eligible contractors informed.

“We don’t want to do away with the requirement. Our process would not change at all. We would still run the notices in newspapers,” he says. “But when we have gone through our requirements correctly, we feel should be able to proceed. All we want is to be authorized to award the bid when newspapers make an error. The bill is just to get some relief from a mistake that is not our fault. We will continue the insertion orders, and we will continue posting lettings on our website.”

The release states that ALDOT officials sent the Marion-Times Standard the proper legal notice by the proper channels, and that an official with the Times-Standard admitted to “an error” in the notice’s publication. But Harris insists that the release’s focus is not to blame the paper for its mistake, but to blame the state legislature for not addressing an ongoing problem.

“It’s not at all our intent to beat up the Marion paper,” he says. “Our intention is to build public support for legislation that would help us help places like Perry County.”

“This will continue costing the taxpayers of this state thousands of dollars each year until we can get the law changed,” said Transportation Director Joe McInnes. “We proposed a reasonable bill during the recent legislative session… The Department, the taxpayers and contractors will continue to be victimized until the Legislature takes action to provide some measure of protection from mistakes that are beyond our control.”

As things currently stand, Harris says, ALDOT’s hands are completely tied.

“In any event, if the ads do not appear and we award a bid, that’s a felony charge,” he says. “And no one here wants to be charged with a felony.”

In addition to the delay, the mistake costs ALDOT money by both forcing the agency to re-advertise for the bids, and, in some cases (though not in the Perry County one) re-start a bidding process that inevitably becomes more expensive for the state.

The saddest aspect of the situation, Harris says, is that the poorer, isolated residents of Perry County won’t have the bridges they need as soon as they deserve them.

“This is much more of a problem,” he says, “in a county like Perry County.”

The contract for the project will now be awarded in June, the release states.

“In Russell County,” the release also states, “where U.S. Highway 431 has been called one of America’s most dangerous highways by Reader’s Digest, a project to widen a portion of the 16 miles of two-lane road to four lanes was delayed by an advertising mistake in 2004.”