Originally created 06/14/05

New law may block bid by late builders



The fury that Columbia County residents have been feeling about the Furys Ferry Road project is starting to trickle down to lawmakers.

State Rep. Ben Harbin, for one, has received so many calls from constituents about the project in his home county that he says he plans to craft "common-sense" legislation prohibiting tardy contractors from bidding on future state projects.

"This is not just about road projects. It will apply to any contractor doing state business," Mr. Harbin said. "If they fall behind and we know it's their fault, they will be taken off of the pre-qualified contractors' list. Then they can go back on once they finish their current job."

That would force contractors to finish one job before getting another, a practice any successful business takes to heart, Mr. Harbin said.

"We award contracts to the lowest bidder, but when projects run so far behind schedule, it defeats the purpose," he said.

"We have $1 billion in state projects coming up. Let's go ahead and stop this problem now."

The state representative said he is not singling out Reeves Construction, the firm working on Furys Ferry and the interchange at Mike Padgett Highway and Bobby Jones Expressway, both more than a year behind.

But that contractor did provide the impetus to push for change, Mr. Harbin said.

"It's not that we want to hurt them, but they brought this to light," he said. "Harry Linnenkohl (the Georgia Department of Transportation's commissioner) said last week that Reeves is still a qualified bidder and they can work on further projects."

In fact, DOT area engineer Scott Stephens said Reeves just began work on another area project - a $3.2 million bridge replacement on Cranes Creek at Columbia Road expected to take about a year.

That the contract was awarded while the firm is in the middle of two severely lagging projects is not something considered by DOT, he said.

Reeves Construction Manager Dan Garcia has blamed the delays on utility relocations and weather.

Mr. Harbin said his legislation would allow a company to bid on state contracts if it has a legitimate reason for delays.

He said the legislation is in a very early stage. In coming months, he'll research other states' policies and meet with the legislative council and attorney general's office about what form the law should take so it can go in the hopper by January.

"Just from informally talking with people, I have a feeling it will be supported. Why wouldn't it be?" Mr. Harbin said. "It just makes sense."

He also endorsed a proposal by Eric Schumacher, the chairman of a local transportation advisory board, to give contractors who finish state projects ahead of schedule extra money.

"There ought to be some reward for finishing early," he said. "It's definitely something to look at."

Reach Dena Levitz at (706) 823-3339 or dena.levitz@augustachronicle.com.