While representatives of the Georgia Department of Transportation last week emphasized the lack of firm plans for the future route of a widened U.S. 441 in southern Oconee County, the Request for Qualifications issued late last year for engineering design services presents at least a slightly different picture.
Brad Saxon, assistant state program delivery engineer for GDOT, told a gathering of citizens at Oconee Veterans Park on Nov. 30 that “we do not have a preferred alignment” for the route and “we are starting work anew.”
On Oct. 15, 2014, however, GDOT issued a Request for Qualifications for engineering design services for the project, and it told bidders that the scope of work for the project called for “concept validation and revising.”
The RFQ stated that concept development for the project would include “Validate current Concept Report” and “Revise Concept Report if necessary.”
The preliminary concept that GDOT released at a private meeting with county officials in June showed a bypass of Bishop running in a wide arch east of the city and the highway deviating west of its current route from Bishop to Farmington.
The RFQ issued by GDOT said the scope of work to be provided includes coordination of environmental documents, preliminary construction plans, bridge plans, right of way plans, and final construction plans.
The widening roadway will run from the current terminus of the four-laned U.S. 441 southwest of Watkinsville to the Apalachee River.
Right of way plans are to be approved by May 27, 2017, and final plans for letting of the project are to be provided by Aug. 15, 2019, according to the RFQ.
The RFQ states that the contract for actual construction is to be let by Nov. 15, 2019, or three years ahead of earlier estimates.
KCI Technologies Inc. of Sparks, Md., north of Baltimore, was the successful bidder for the engineering design services for the project. KCI has offices in Duluth.
Five firms submitted bids, according to documents I was able to obtain from the GDOT web site.
A document dated Feb. 6 of this year identified KCI as the top-ranked bidder, but I could find no indication when the bid was let.
Saxon yesterday helped me locate the RFQ documents on the GDOT web site, but I did not get a response from him today regarding when the contract had been given to KCI.
Saxon At Oconee Meeting
Saxon attended the meeting on Nov. 30 at Oconee Veterans Park and responded to questions about the status of GDOT planning for the bypass of Bishop and the remainder of the route.
Saxon told the group “that a lot of work has been done over the last 20 years" and that the U.S. 441 was a project GDOT wanted to expedite, using new money from the fuel tax and hotel tax increase approved by the Georgia General Assembly in March.
“We do not have a preferred alignment,” he said twice in the video clip below.
Emil Beshara, Oconee County Public Works director, also responded to questions at that meeting about routes, and he answered in a different way, as the video below shows.
He said GDOT had picked the bypass route that “was ranked highest” in earlier discussions as a starting point.
Beshara spoke before Saxon at the Nov. 30 meeting.
Beshara also was at that meeting on June 16 in the Courthouse in Watkinsville that was organized by Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis.
After that meeting, in response to a request, Beshara provided me with the three maps used by GDOT officials that day. Saxon was among those present representing GDOT.
Those maps are linked in the bottom of my post from the Nov. 30 meeting.
Bruce Anderson, project manager, sent me an email message at 10:23 a.m. on Dec. 9 providing an update on the KCI contract. He was responding at the request of Saxon.
Anderson said that KCI Technologies had been notified that it was selected as "prime consultant" for the U.S. 441 widening project on Feb. 10 of this year.
The "master contract" between GDOT and KCI was executed on Nov. 13, according to Anderson's message.