Upkeep of interstate might be privatized

ATLANTA --- The state is looking at whether it might save money by hiring a private company to maintain interstate highways rather than continuing to have the Department of Transportation do it.

On Friday, the state will have its answer when firms submit their bids for upkeep on the stretch of Interstate 95 from South Carolina to Florida. Transportation Commissioner Vance Smith told his former colleagues on the joint House-Senate appropriations committees recently that I-95 will serve as the test.

"We are looking at a total maintenance package for that Interstate," he said.

Maintenance will include mowing, litter removal, patching potholes and keeping a fresh coat of paint on the stripes. Snow removal won't be part of the contract despite criticism the department received for not keeping all roads clear in Atlanta during a snow and sleet storm this month.

Until the bids are in, the department won't release how much it spends maintaining I-95. The winning bid will be announced in early March, and the contractor will take over maintenance July 1, the start of the new budget year.

Three firms with similar contracts in other states are expected to bid: Transfield Service, DBI Services and Jorgensen.

The DOT is looking for ways to save money. The agency is already saving $135,000 yearly by outsourcing its spare parts shop, Smith said, and he has trimmed the payroll in his 18 months from 5,300 to 4,800.

If the department does award a contract to one of the three bidding companies, nothing will be different for drivers, said Jill Goldberg, the DOT deputy press secretary.

Reach Walter Jones at (404) 589-8424 or walter.jones@morris.com.