The Fort Payne City Council reluctantly voted to proceed with a project by the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) to replace street signage, pave and widening roadways inside the perimeter of DeSoto State Park.
City Clerk Andy Parker described the situation to the council.
“Several months ago, we were approached about doing this from the top of Highway 35 all the way through the park,” he said. “Our part of the agreement was we were responsible for inside the perimeter of the park. At the time they approached us, they estimated the cost at $230,000 and our match was 10% or $23,000. When the bid actually came in, it came in at $265,000. They’re saying our portion is now $53,000. My question to ALDOT was ‘if our portion is 10%, why is it not $26,000?’ Well, the way the state figures it, when they offer a city a project like this, the city is responsible for any overages in their entirety, above and beyond what the estimated bid was. So it was another $30,000. So we either accept it or we don’t.”
Parker said the downside to rejecting the bid would be having already spent $10,000 on engineering for the project, plus risking the relationship with state officials.
“I’m not saying we would get black-balled, but if the state puts a project like this together and then we say ‘never mind’, they may not look favorably upon us,” he said.
“I don’t know if you’d call it black balling, but we wouldn’t get another one,” City Attorney Rocky Watson speculated. “It won’t be forever, but it would be a while. It will hurt the relationship working with ALDOT and the State if we don’t do it. You never know what kind of impact [backing out of a project] will have. That’s a fairly large project, a quarter of a million dollar project that they’re willing to put in $210,000 on it. It’s a good project for the park and tourism. It just wasn’t clear. They said what they estimated it would cost and told us our share would be 10%. Well, that was based on their projection of the project. It’s not just the state. It’s any construction project that runs over. If they’d said ‘We’re going to spend this much and everything over that, you’re paying’ then we would have understood that to begin with.”
Parker said that escalating costs of building materials affected bids received from construction companies on a different project, leading him to suspect that is what may account for the increase in cost.
“Everything gets blamed on COVID, but as you know, the cost of building materials have just gone to the moon and back,” Park said. “That’s probably what’s happened with this, but it was right at the start of [the coronavirus] when they approached us about this. That estimate was probably fairly accurate at that time. It’s a dart throw in this day and age.”
“I don’t particularly like it, but I’m going to make the motion to go ahead and do it. I think we need to,” said Council member Johnny Eberhart.
Council member Phillip Smith seconded the motion.
“Whoever wrote that grant up in Montgomery is a genius,” said Council member John Smith. “We just learned a $30,000 lesson.”
DeKalb County was also involved in the project.
At its most recent meeting, the DeKalb County Commission passed a resolution for the High Risk Rural Roads Funding agreement that will provide funding for County Road 89 and will help to replace the various safety signs near DeSoto State Park that will be more reflective and more visible. The county will receive $42,417.85 and the agreement is a 90/10 match.
The 2021 High Risk Rural Roads (HRRR) Program Guidelines specify that HRRR projects “shall have a 90% Federal/10% Local split. Any contract overruns will be the responsibility of the local governmental agency.”
Alabama was one of nine states which triggered the HRRR Special rule due to an increase in the fatality rate as measured by a 5-year rolling average. The HRRR Special Rule requires that Alabama must obligate $4,124,978 towards projects for High Risk Rural Roads as defined by 23 USC 148(a)(1), “any roadway functionally classified as a major or minor collector or a rural local road with significant safety risks, as defined by a State in accordance with an updated State strategic highway safety plan.”
High Risk Rural Road projects are designed to reduce the number of fatal and serious injury lane departure and run-off-road crashes.
HRRR projects were evaluated and selected by the HRRR Selection Committee by a competitive selection process. The selection committee consisted of representatives from the ALDOT Local Transportation Bureau and the ALDOT Traffic and Safety Operations Section.
Funding for projects not authorized prior to June 1, 2021 will be rescinded at the discretion of ALDOT in order to reallocate awarded funds before the FHWA authorization deadline.
Per the HRRR Special Rule, HRRR funding had to receive FHWA authorization by the end of the fiscal year. Any HRRR funds not authorized by October 1, 2021 will be rescinded by FHWA.
In other business,
• heard a report from Mayor Brian Baine, who met with ALDOT and determined that the proposed overpass and alternate routing for Wallace Avenue to eliminate Joe’s Truck Stop is estimated to cost $38 million. Because of the high cost, the two projects may be split, and Baine said he continues to communicate with Nathaniel Ledbetter and State Sen. Steve Livingston to promote the urgent need for the projects.
• Williams told the council that the city would save $115,000 on the construction of a turn lane at the new school by doing the work itself. He praised the council for investing in heavy equipment in recent years to make this possible. The project will take about 13 days to complete.
• Approved a $2,500 appropriation to the Fort Payne High School basketball program to help pay for the cost of game officials for the Wills Valley Shoot-Out Tournament.