Campaign Watchdog: Gray's claims about South Limestone project 'false'

amead@herald-leader.comOctober 26, 2010 

The statement: "South Limestone. When the city needed to repave this road, the mayor turned to one of his political contributors, and we ended up paying $16 million. That's $5 million more than the original estimate to the high bidder. That's $7,000 a foot."

— Vice Mayor Jim Gray, in a television ad criticizing Mayor Jim Newberry

The ruling: False

The facts: This ad shows Gray walking along the new South Limestone past bright yellow signs that count $7,000 each foot. At one point, the words "No bid contracts" appear on the screen.

The fundamental premise of the ad — the city spent $7,000 a foot to "repave this road" — is false. What happened on South Lime went far beyond paving. Sanitary and storm sewers were replaced. Electric, telephone and cable lines were buried. The street and sidewalks were removed and rebuilt, with rain gardens.

Also, Newberry didn't turn to contributors, as the ad alleges, to do the job. It was competitively bid.

There were two bidders. A bid from Woodall Construction was slightly lower but was rejected because the company could not meet the construction schedule, project manager George Milligan said. The job went to ATS Construction, which bid $13.1 million.

The president of Woodall gave money to Newberry in 2002 and this year. Two officials of ATS have contributed to Newberry this year, after the contract was let.

The contract is expected to come in under bid, at $12.7 million, Milligan said. Utility work cost an additional $1.7 million, also under budget. Design was an additional $616,000.

The city's part of work still to be done for bus stops, benches, signs and other "transportation amenities" will cost $250,000, with an additional $750,000 coming from federal transportation money.

That comes to about $15.25 million, which is expected to be offset by $2.6 million in "green infrastructure" money from the federal stimulus package that is being funneled through the state, Milligan said.

What Gray calls "the original estimate" was from the city's Streetscape Master Plan, which underestimated the cost of burying utilities. An engineer's estimate for the project was never done, Public Works Director Mike Webb said, adding that the project is coming in under the bid amounts.

On "No bid contracts" appearing in the ad, Gray campaign manager Jamie Emmons said that referred to other contracts during the Newberry administration, not the South Limestone project. He said the words "high bidder" in the ad make that clear.

Emmons said the Gray campaign arrived at $7,000 a foot by dividing the $16 million it said the project cost by a 2,112-foot length it measured on Google Maps.

Webb said the project was 2,912 feet long. His figure, without adding the "transportation amenities" or subtracting the expected subsidy money, is a little more than $15 million, or $5,000 a foot — for a lot more than paving.

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