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Attorney general favors no-bid county roadwork

By Sean Ryan

A Thursday decision by Wisconsin’s attorney general reinforces municipal authority to bypass bidding and award road reconstruction contracts to county highway departments.

The decision is a response to a request filed a year ago by the Construction Business Group. Robb Kahl, executive director of the group, said contractors lose work when cities award projects to county highway departments without publicly bidding out the jobs.

The Construction Business Group is financed by contractors and workers covered by the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 139 collective-bargaining agreements.

According to Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen’s written opinion, state law lets governments hire other public agencies to do construction work without competitively bidding a job. It matches a written opinion from former Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, Kahl said.

Kahl said discussions between builders and county highway groups have improved since December 2008 when he requested the attorney general opinion. The Wisconsin County Highways Association and Construction Business Group are negotiating to find a way for contractors to have a better shot at competing against county highway departments, Kahl said.

He said he’s cautiously optimistic the sides can reach an agreement.

“I don’t want this to put a stick in the spokes,” he said of the attorney general opinion. “We are moving forward to find some middle ground for everybody. Like I said, this is a year old.”

Dan Fedderly, executive director of the Wisconsin County Highway Association, said the goal is a compromise that preserves the existing system while letting contractors bid on projects that are now given to county highway departments.

“We think that the real advantage is not one or the other,” he said.

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