The Mississippi Department of Transportation has taken over engineering of the $8.34 million beach road project in order to speed up the completion time and address safety concerns raised in the past few weeks, MDOT officials said in two letters to the Hancock County Board of Supervisors last week.
On Monday, the board voted 4-1 to change the current engineering firm on the project, CDM, and let MDOT take over.
District Three Supervisor Lisa Cowand was the lone “no” vote.
Board action was necessary because the project is actually the county’s, but MDOT is involved because of state-aid regulations, officials said.
County Attorney Ronnie Artigues said Tuesday the board only acted on MDOT’s request, and it did not have any findings of wrong-doing by CDM.
CDM officials said in a statement Tuesday that they continue to support the county.
“In our continuing support of Hancock County and in recognition of the importance of the project and its ongoing funding, CDM is complying with the terms of the county CDM contract and the county’s instruction regarding termination of the contract,” the statement said.
Earlier this year, the board approved an $8.34 million contract for Lane Construction to repair the beach road.
CDM had been retained by the board to oversee the project; however, MDOT State Aid Engineer J. Brooks Miller said the state was not satisfied with the way things were going.
“I have been informed that the progress is not satisfactory due to lack of engineering supervision,” Miller said. “Since this is a federal emergency relief project, MDOT has expressed a desire to assume the administration of construction engineering and inspection duties.”
MDOT’s Chief Engineer Melinda McGrath said there had been several complaints about the project, which caused MDOT to do an inspection last Wednesday.
“We made an inspection of the project, and while there, noted many deficiencies which caused us great concern,” McGrath said. “Foremost among these was the failure to require implementation of a traffic control plan.
“This was of such a magnitude to affect the safety and well-being of the traveling public. While we recognize that the county has control over county business and contracts, MDOT has an oversight obligation to the Federal Highway Administration on these emergency projects because of federal funding.”
In response to the two letters, the board called an emergency meeting on Monday and approved the recommendation from MDOT to remove CDM.
“MDOT notified us last Thursday that it wanted to take over the project,” Artigues said. “In fairness to CDM, they have not had a chance to respond. This does not change the contract or the contractor. They will continue to keep working.”
CDM officials said they are reserving comment until it has time to investigate MDOT’s findings.
“We are eager to fully understand the MDOT findings that led to their order for Hancock County to terminate the contract,” the CDM statement said. “Further comment at this time would not be appropriate until then.”
The project spans 8.6 miles and will complete the road from Washington Street west to Buccaneer Park and from Hwy. 90 to Cedar Point, officials said.
The project includes installing concrete shoulders, some concrete repair, and asphalt overlay of the entire stretch.
Board of Supervisors President Rocky Pullman said Monday this situation would not affect CDM’s status with the county.
“I told them (CDM) that if we have any future projects, they would be high on our list,” Pullman said.
BY: Dwayne Bremer
The Sea Coast Echo