MOUNT PLEASANT — Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, criticized the state Department of Transportation Thursday after news broke that the agency waived initial fines related to delays on the Highway MM project.
The DOT and Caledonia-based contractor Cornerstone Pavers agreed to a revised contract on July 12 with a completion date of July 20, according to a DOT statement sent to The Journal Times. Cornerstone has since been charged $22,770 in new liquidated damages — a rate of the $2,070 per day — for completing the project on July 31, 11 days late, the statement said.
The waived damages were originally levied in the winter. The DOT, which holds the contract, made the decision to waive the fees on its own without input for Racine County, according to Delagrave and Julie Anderson, the county’s director of public works and development services.
“This is why this project has been a debacle from the start,” Delagrave said in a phone interview Thursday. “We’re not involved. We’ve asked the contract to be changed with the DOT throughout the process from beginning to middle to end. We wanted to be participative in the process and we were shut out by the DOT.”
Delagrave later added, “We’re disheartened that the Wisconsin Department of Transportation would not want to partner with a county — in this case, Racine County — to work together to ensure that this project was done. We’ve asked, they said no. We’ve asked again, they said no. So, to not include us in any of the decision-making process is not only troublesome, but it’s really disheartening and it affects the county taxpayer in this case.”
Vos’ spokeswoman said the Assembly speaker “is disappointed that the DOT is not doing its job in holding its contractors accountable.”
State Rep. Robert Wittke, R-Wind Point, whose district includes Highway MM, echoed those sentiments.
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“I’m as frustrated and disappointed as any member of this community on this project,” Wittke said. “I believe the DOT has to hold contractors accountable.”
Cornerstone previously placed blame for the multitude of delays on AT&T, saying the telecommunications company was slow to complete infrastructure work. “AT&T utility conflicts” do take some of the blame in the DOT’s statement, which says that infrastruture work and other factors such as hazardous materials and sewer issues contributed further to delays.
Cornerstone owner Chris Cape did not respond to phone calls Thursday afternoon. Delagrave previously said he does not want Cornerstone to have another contract in Racine County and on Thursday stood by that, calling it “a goal of Racine County.”
The DOT said it still considers Cornerstone a prime contractor but will evaluate the company’s performance on the MM project, taking “department as well as local concerns” into account.
The DOT and Racine County are under contract to pay for the project with an 80/20 split. The final cost of the project is not yet known.
Initial contract estimates put the project at $5.3 million but it is unlikely the final invoice would be that low because the work dragged on for months past the original deadline.
The county has been charged $967,076.87 to date, the DOT said, and final costs “are being invoiced according to a project agreement and a subsequent Memorandum of Understanding agreed to by the County and WisDOT in the spring of 2016.” Delagrave said he will dispute any overages the DOT asks the county to pay.
“We find that that would be ridiculous, unfair, especially that we were not part of the conversation,” Delagrave said. “And we would certainly fight those charges.”