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BOC rejects Crowell Road repair

COVINGTON -- County commissioners rejected a proposal to design a permanent fix to flood damaged Crowell Road at their April 6 meeting.

County Engineer Kevin Walter presented a task order from transportation consultants Hatch Mott MacDonald to do the design work for a cost not to exceed $140,000, but several board members said that was too high.

Crowell Road near the Interstate 20 intersection and Harold Dobbs Road was closed for six weeks beginning in September due to flooding; temporary repairs were made to the road, but it has been closed twice since then due to heavy rains, according to Chairman Kathy Morgan.

"It is critical that we repair this road permanently," Morgan said.

Walter told the board the road is in danger of washing out if future flooding occurs.

"Our big fear is not just that another pipe will fail but that the whole road will fail," he said.

To prevent that from happening, plans are to install a concrete arch culvert-bridge to allow water from a stream to pass underneath. The stream is a tributary of the Yellow River that has already destroyed two of three drainage pipes under the road during flooding conditions.

The design is more complicated because it would have to accommodate the planned future widening of Crowell Road to four lanes, Walter said. In addition, various hydrologic and environmental studies could mean permits for the work could take up to a year to secure, he said.

It is estimated that the cost to construct the project will be about $800,000.

Commissioner Nancy Schulz noted the consultant's fee of $140,000 is in excess of 15 percent of the total project cost.

"This is the third time we've had this road repaired and we need to get it right this time, but that doesn't mean I'm comfortable with the amount of money we're spending," Schulz said.

Walter said that's a typical fee for engineering and design work -- the average runs about 16 percent, he said.

In 2005, the county selected five transportation consultants to work on a task order basis as needed for a six-year period. The selection process took nearly two years.

The consultants are assigned projects by Walter under the advisement and with the consent of Morgan and the board.

"We've used all of our consultants for different things based on their individual strengths and occasionally, they've worked together," Walter said.

The contracts are set up under the model used by the Georgia Department of Transportation, MARTA and the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority. The consultants and staff are paid an hourly salary that is the same as what they are normally paid by the company. A 154 percent additional overhead charge is added to cover expenses and equipment. The overhead is audited and regulated by the federal government. The overhead rate goes down if the company downsizes or expenses decrease, Walter said.

The idea is that the hourly rate and the overhead should cover only actual expenses, Walter said. On top of that, the consultant firm gets a 10 percent profit. All consultants were required to bid their profit percentage and all bid 10 percent, which Walter said was a reasonable amount.

Although this is the formula used by the county to pay consultants since 2005, it is being called into question now that the county is facing decreasing revenues for the fiscal year 2011 budget.

"I think that's extremely high for what we're asking for," Commissioner Mort Ewing said. "The economy has changed a great deal since (then). A lot of people are out of work and a lot of engineers are looking for work. It seems to me it's incumbent upon us to look at what we're doing here because it's been four years since we've done it."

Commissioner Earnest Simmons made a motion to approve the task order. Initially, the vote was 3 to 2 with Simmons, J.C. Henderson and Tim Fleming in favor. However after the vote, Fleming said he didn't understand the motion.

Simmons made the motion again and another vote was taken, with Fleming, Schulz and Ewing voting in opposition.

Walter said the issue will be revisited during an April 20 work session.