Interstate exit could lose federal funding

By By Fredie Carmichael / staff writer
June 10, 2004
Meridian could lose more than $500,000 in federal money earmarked for the design of a key Interstate 20/59 interchange if city councilmen don't amend their contract with a Jackson engineering firm.
The problem could force Meridian to re-advertise for bids for a new selection process to choose an engineering firm to do the work a move that likely would cause new delays in construction of an exit to serve the I-20/59 industrial park.
The problem: Meridian officials signed a contract with Engineering Associates in December 2002 for work on the interchange that included an environmental study of the proposed sites and preliminary design work.
City officials, however, signed the contract before it was approved by the Mississippi Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration. Because of that, federal money is unavailable.
Error discovered
The submission error was discovered in April when MDOT officials said they learned federal money would be unavailable for design work as well as two environmental studies already completed.
MDOT said the state will cover the cost of the environmental study. A letter MDOT sent to Mayor John Robert Smith dated May 20 said the city will have to re-advertise for bids for the rest of the I-20/59 project.
Henson said she plans to talk with fellow councilmen today and "see if we can get everything together" to amend the Engineering Associates contract and re-advertise the project at their Tuesday regular meeting.
Ken Wallace, district construction engineer at MDOT's Newton office, said once Meridian officials decide what to do with the contract his agency will oversee the city's selection of a new engineering firm.
Such a move would mark the city's third selection process in two years for engineering work tied to the interchange.
New selection
Some councilmen said Wednesday that they were unaware they will have to go through a third selection process and possibly chose another design firm in order to receive the remaining federal funds.
Ward 1 Councilman George Thomas said that Mayor John Robert Smith told him last week that the remaining federal money was not in jeopardy.
Henson is the only councilmen who said the mayor "alluded to me that we may have to start from scratch."
Smith did not return phone calls today. But he said last week that he usually talks with Henson about any important issues in the city.
He said he didn't feel a need to contact councilmen about problems with the Engineering Associates interchange contract last week because it was resolved positively and "there was no urgency to it."

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