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FRANKFORT - A meeting Friday between state officials and the contractors working on the Shelbyville Bypass revealed two key pieces of information:
State transportation officials admitted they won't repeat the mistakes made in what they consider a lenient contract, and Kay and Kay Construction officials said in some cases the state inspectors have delayed progress on the roadway.
Engineers also encouraged the contractors to put larger crews on the job, and weekly meetings were scheduled to monitor progress.
Friday's meeting at the Transportation Cabinet's office was a follow-up to an exchange of letters between state Rep. Brad Montell (R-Shelbyville) and outgoing Transportation Secretary Joe Prather in response to stories and editorials in The Sentinel-News about the lack of progress on the bypass.
Officials of Kay and Kay had declined repeated contacts by The Sentinel-News to provide comment on their progress, and this was the contractors' first public response to the complaints of Shelby Countians about how long construction is taking.
The $26.5 million project to build 4.5 miles of highway connecting KY 55 north and west of Shelbyville, began in May 2006 and now is not expected to be completed until late in 2010. Kay and Kay's contract allows 486 days to build the road, a schedule that does not include weekends, holidays or the months between Nov. 1 and March 31.
Montell, state Sen. Gary Tapp (R-Shelbyville), Kay and Kay owner Bill Robinson and vice president Mike Hamm, state engineers Matt Bullock and Matt Looney and Transportation Cabinet Secretary appointee Mike Hancock attended.
"I think we made good progress today," Montell said on Friday. "I was very pleased with Mike Hancock's participation in the meeting, and his urging to Kay and Kay to make this project a priority."
Hancock followed Prather's lead in his letter to Montell in which he said that the state "will continue to encourage the contractor to make progress." And he concurred with Prather that the state cannot dictate to Kay and Kay to speed up its work, as long as the contractors are working within their contractual guidelines, which Prather and Hancock acknowledge are faulty.
"The main issue with this project is the length of time assigned to it, and I think all of us agree that it was probably too generous, and we learned from this," Hancock said after the meeting.
"As we have encountered the issues that have arisen in Shelbyville, we have taken that information and carefully considered how that happened and then tried to take any lessons we've learned to make sure in the future we don't have these kinds of problems."
During the meeting, Tapp told Hamm and Robinson that "you guys need to do a little more," and Montell asked Hamm if he thought the project could be completed in the 140 working days that are left on the contract.
"If the weather cooperates, we can be done within that timeframe," Hamm said. "Yes, I think we can meet or beat that."
Hamm said that his most recent estimate is that the construction is now about 75 to 80 percent complete, but he also said the state had held up progress by being slow on inspections of completed work, which prevented workers from moving on to the next phase.
"I was a little surprised to hear that there was a lack of communication between our state engineers and their folks," said Montell. "They were frustrated that they would prepare the subgrade, and they weren't getting approval in what they felt like was a timely manner so they could move on. And then the rain would come, and they would have to start all over. So there was a level of frustration on the part of Kay and Kay that I wasn't aware of."
Said Tapp: "That's true, but on the other side of that issue, there are a lot of road projects going on in our area, and the cabinet had a massive amount of people retire last fall. So they're actually short on district engineers."
Montell said he was glad that Chief District Engineer Matt Bullock urged the contractors to put more people on the job.
"I was pleased that Matt Bullock pushed them to commit to having a larger work crew on the job," he said. "I also appreciate him asking for weekly meetings with Kay and Kay just to see how things are going. I think that's a really good idea, because lack of communication always causes problems."
Tapp agreed. "I think there's some things that both sides could have done a little differently, especially communications, but I think that problem has been taken care of now," he said.
"As we have watched this project unfold, we have all been sympathetic to the folks in Shelby County who would like to see this project get done, and all of us want that, too," Hancock said, and he pointed out to Hamm and Robinson that residents want to see some progress on the project.
When asked by a reporter if Kay and Kay cared about what the public thinks, Hamm answered affirmatively.
"Yes, we care," he said. "We want the public to have a good impression of us as a contractor. We certainly don't want to have a bad name."
Hamm added that the public doesn't understand, "and that does bother us because there have been a lot of misconceptions."
Kay and Kay has several other open state contracts, and Robinson and Hamm responded positively to Hancock's urging that they make the bypass project a priority.
"We just want to get this project done and over with," Robinson said.