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WisDOT doc gives wrong impression

By Sean Ryan

A Wisconsin Department of Transportation notice to contractors ranks the agency among the worst in the nation in starting construction for stimulus jobs.

But the notice contradicts assessments by WisDOT’s peers and the department’s record for stimulus construction starts in 2009.

The notice’s assertion that WisDOT ranks poorly in starting construction is inaccurate, said Chris Klein, executive assistant to WisDOT Secretary Frank Busalacchi. The notice was posted on the WisDOT Web site Monday and removed Tuesday.

“I don’t know how it got up there,” Klein said. “We think it was part of an internal training exercise and, somehow, it got posted.”

A new notice was posted by 2:40 p.m. Tuesday on the WisDOT Web site. The agency removed the paragraph referring to WisDOT’s timing but kept the order that construction should be authorized quickly.

According to the guidelines set out in the new and old documents, stimulus contracts let in January and February should begin construction by early May. Those let in March and April should begin “as quickly as possible.”

WisDOT held special monthly bid lettings for stimulus projects between April and July. The agency opened bids for stimulus projects Tuesday, and will hold special lettings in each of the next three months.

As of Jan. 22, WisDOT had authorized work to begin on 253 of the 308 Wisconsin engineering and construction projects that received stimulus money from the Federal Highway Administration, according to a report by the federal agency.

Nationwide, 10,833 projects had received stimulus money from the Federal Highway Administration by Jan. 22, and 7,047 of those had started.

The data show Wisconsin, with 82 percent of its stimulus projects authorized to begin, beat the national average of 65 percent.

“It’s not even a matter of opinion,” Klein said.

The Federal Highway Administration set deadlines for state departments of transportation to dedicate stimulus money to contracts, but there were no deadlines to start construction.

Dan Zignego, controller for Waukesha-based Zignego Co. Inc., said WisDOT let his company begin rebuilding Interstate 94 in Racine County within four weeks of awarding the $19.6 million stimulus contract. That’s on par with the average time it takes to start state highway projects when contractors do not request waivers for disadvantaged business enterprise participation, he said.

Zignego said his company could have started work earlier if utility companies had moved their underground pipes and wires more quickly.

“Our timeline, as far as DOT goes, was good,” he said. “We had some delays, but I believe those were utility related.”

Highway engineers for departments of transportation nationwide hold regular meetings to talk about ways to speed stimulus projects, said John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. WisDOT’s three- to four-week turnover period is on par with other states, he said.

“I’m impressed that Wisconsin is trying to be responsive to the direction that we’re getting from federal highways,” Horsley said, “and I’m guessing you will begin to see things moving faster.”

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