Tony Harris, a spokesman for the Alabama Department of Transportation, said an agreement between the bonding company on the project and a new contractor should happen sometime this week.
ALDOT declared L&T Construction, the original contractor, in default in January.
L&T officials have cited environmental issues with a stream near the future road as the reason they fell behind. But in a series of Monday phone and email interviews with The Star, Harris said the Mississippi-based company was already significantly behind schedule when state transportation officials last July halted grading work associated with that stream.
Based on department calculations, L&T was nearly 40 percent behind schedule going into 2011, Harris said.
That, more than anything, caused ALDOT first to send a default warning letter to the company on Dec. 8, 2011 and eventually remove L&T from the project, according to Harris.
“ALDOT had tried unsuccessfully to avoid defaulting the contractor for about six months,” Harris wrote in an email.
He said ALDOT in January 2011 that L&T might be disqualified from additional state projects because of the delays with Veterans Memorial Parkway.
In June 2011, ALDOT took that step, disqualifying L&T from any other projects.
“These are standard practices for ALDOT as part of efforts to work with a contractor toward satisfactory progress,” Harris said. “It became evident that default warning and eventually default were necessary.”
Last week, Dan Cordell, the L&T general manager, told The Star the work on the parkway stalled in July because of a design flaw raised by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.
One of the streams scheduled to be realigned was environmentally protected, Cordell said.
But Harris said L&T had delays long before the stream – located east of the future road – became a problem.
And the stream was not so much the issue as the grading and mulching practices used by L&T, Harris said.
“Everyone involved knew about the stream,” Harris said. “The stream’s location and the realignment were included in the specs provided to all contractors prior to bids being taken.”
ADEM and the Army Corps of Engineers had approved the realignment procedures for the stream; that kind of approval is required on all construction projects, Harris said.
What became an issue in July was when ADEM cited L&T for improper grading work. Harris said that citation led ALDOT to halt the company’s work pushing dirt and ask it to take the necessary steps to get back into compliance.
Cordell told The Star last week that L&T hired an environmental consultant to assess the situation. The consultant determined L&T had not damaged the stream, Cordell said. Moreover, the general manager said, the consultant indicated that there were no measures in the design plan to protect the site.
In response to the stream-related shutdown, L&T filed in November a claim for potential damages.
But eight days later, the company received a warning of termination from ALDOT.
Harris said, ultimately, L&T’s off-track construction schedule caused the company’s default.
“The stream and related scope of work are not related to ALDOT’s reasoning for declaring the contractor in default,” Harris said.
Now, the focus turns to finding a new contractor for the project. The federal stimulus package approved by Congress in 2009 set aside $47 million for the project. L&T was the low bidder on that job, at $29 million. Harris said ALDOT has already paid $24.3 million from that to L&T. Officials expect the project to be completed for the remaining contract balance of $5 million but did not have on Monday an estimate for a completion date.
Robin Scott, the executive director for the McClellan Development Authority, said the MDA didn’t have any specific business deals that would be affected by the delay in the road project.
But, in general, any delay with the parkway causes delays in development opportunities, Scott said.
“We’re certainly looking forward to the development of the parkway and the access it provides to McClellan,” he said.
Star Staff Writer Cameron Steele: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @Csteele_star.