MADISON — A group of five Republican state legislators on Monday jointly filed an open records request with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation for documents related to the department’s controversial decision to waive more than $400,000 in fines related to the extensively delayed Highway MM reconstruction project.
The letter, signed by state Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, R-New Berlin, and state Sens. David Craig, R-Town of Vernon; Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield; Stephen Nass, R-Whitewater; and Duey Strobel, R-Saukville, asks for “all relevant records respecting the County Highway MM project.”
Caledonia-based contractor Cornerstone Pavers initially had $402,615 in fines levied against it before the DOT agreed to a revised contract with the company, wiping the slate clean after the DOT said it found credibility in Cornerstone’s excuses for the nearly yearlong delay.
“As stewards of the state’s transportation dollars, it is incumbent upon WisDOT to be vigilant in holding contractors to account and to be transparent about its efforts to do so,” the legislators wrote in the letter sent to The Journal Times by Sanfelippo’s office.
The decision to waive the fees “raise(s) serious questions about WisDOT’s actions in this matter,” the letter says.
None of the five legislators represent the 62nd Assembly District or 21st Senate District, the Highway MM project site. However, Nass represents a small portion of far southwest Racine County in the Town of Burlington, Craig represents the Village of Waterford, the location of the Highway 20/83 project from which Cornerstone was dropped, and Sanfelippo represents West Allis, where Cornerstone reportedly missed deadlines on a resurfacing of West National Avenue.
“All last year I got beat up by my constituents and officials from West Allis — the mayor and aldermen — about the project that was going on on National Avenue,” Sanfelippo, reached Tuesday by phone, said. “There was just a lot of problems. It was way behind. The job was supposed to be finished last fall; it went way into the spring. It was just one problem after another.”
Sanfelippo said that when he heard about the MM project, he got in touch with legislators to draft the letter to the DOT.
State Rep. Robert Wittke, R-Wind Point, whose district includes Highway MM, said he was aware of the letter before it was sent. He said he did not sign it because Sanfelippo is more involved with DOT-related issues.
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In addition to the records request, the legislators asked questions surrounding the DOT’s decision-making process in waiving the fees for the MM project, what further fines the department may levy against Cornerstone and whether the DOT paid overages resulting from the numerous delays.
“We don’t have any predetermined position,” Sanfelippo said. “We want to know from the DOT, why did you do all these things? Like I said, you give them the benefit of the doubt, maybe they have a very good reason for doing it and this was just a one-off situation.”
Cornerstone was fined $22,770 upon the project’s July 31 completion. The original contracted completion date was Nov. 1, 2018, but the revised contract — signed July 12 — gave the project a July 20 completion date.
Among the reasons listed by the DOT for the contract revision were AT&T utility delays — which Cornerstone previously blamed for the project’s issues — weather delays, sewer issues and hazardous materials.
“We did not waive any day (of delayed completion) that did not justify being waived,” DOT spokesman Michael Pyritz said in August.
He said Tuesday that much of the information the legislators asked for has been published already, so the legislators should have the requested documents fairly quicky.
Cornerstone owner Chris Cape declined to comment.