Gardner: Road project ‘in the red zone’

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 26, 2000

The clock is ticking on plans to rebuild Government Fleet Road, but work is at a standstill until the city and county can agree on a funding split for the matching funds on the project.

&uot;We’re getting close,&uot; said Natchez City Engineer David Gardner. &uot;It’s getting critical – we’re in the red zone now.&uot;

If workers don’t meet certain construction deadlines on the joint project, the city and county could lose the project’s $1.5 million grant from the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

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&uot;I need to get going within six to eight weeks or we’re going to lose the money,&uot; Gardner said.

Natchez and Adams County officials are hoping to get a $286,000 grant from the Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development to make up the matching costs on the MDOT grant.

But if the extra grant funds don’t come through, the city and county have to foot the bill for the matching costs.

In a July 12 meeting between aldermen and supervisors, members of both boards discussed how to split the costs. Supervisors President Virginia Salmon asked Mayor F.L. &uot;Hank&uot; Smith to supply figures showing the amount the city has already spent on preliminary engineering work.

Smith said Gardner compiled the figures and gave them to Salmon Friday, July 14, before the supervisors’ Monday meeting.

&uot;By the time they got the figures, it was too short of notice for them to take it up at the meeting,&uot; Smith said.

The supervisors are attending a conference in Biloxi this week and will not hold another meeting until Aug. 8.

After speaking with Salmon last week, Smith said he is confident the supervisors will discuss the proposed split at their next meeting.

Supervisor Darryl Grennell said he has not received any information about the project since the meeting with the aldermen.

&uot;If it has been disseminated to Mrs. Salmon, it has not been disseminated to me,&uot; Grennell said. &uot;Since the meeting with the city, the board of supervisors has not discussed anything dealing with Government Fleet Road or the EDA (Economic Development Authority).&uot; The EDA&160;was also on the agenda at the joint meeting of the boards.

Smith had hoped to get permission from the supervisors at the July 12 meeting to move ahead with preliminary engineering work, but many supervisors were concerned how the project cost would be divided if the DECD grant is not approved.

Government Fleet road services several industries and businesses as well as the Natchez-Adams County Port. The rebuilding project will widen the two-lane road, straighten several sharp curves and fill in ravines which line the route. It is estimated more than 100,000 trucks travel the road every year.

By Sept. 30, 2002, the city must secure a contractor and have awarded bids or the grant will be revoked.

Although that target date is two years away, Gardner is on a strict schedule. Each contract must go through several approvals processes. And since the funds come from a pilot program through MDOT, there may be unforseen &uot;bumps in the road&uot; that may extend the current timeline, Gardner said.

His timeline shows the work beginning on the project Aug. 1 – and impossibility because supervisors don’t meet again until a week later.

&uot;I’m already at $78,000 now, and the clock’s still ticking,&uot; Gardner said. &uot;I’m incurring more costs every day.&uot;