TAMPA, Fla. — State transportation bosses approved 165 straight days of extra time for the state contractor working on the Gandy Boulevard expansion – allowing the contractor to potentially avoid hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for delays, an I-Team review found.
The latest I-Team findings explain one of the reasons the Gandy Boulevard expansion project was delayed for years – part of an ABC Action News investigation into a troubling system of road project delays that has enraged taxpayers and local lawmakers and now has the Gov. DeSantis calling for changes.
FDOT originally estimated the Gandy Boulevard project, which began in Pinellas County in early 2014, would last about two-and-a-half years, but it ended up taking more than four years to complete and wasn’t finished until 2018.
During state road projects, the contractor agrees to complete the work in a set amount of days. FDOT can fine contractors thousands of dollars a day for delays.
But FDOT can also stop the clock at any time, giving contractors extra days for holidays, special events and bad weather and pushing off the project end date.
In one example of delays during the Gandy Boulevard project, FDOT stopped the clock for 165 straight days, beginning August 28, 2017.
An FDOT spokeswoman defended the move, telling the I-Team in an email, “According to our review of the records, the days granted in question are warranted.”
But I-Team Investigator Adam Walser obtained nearly 12,000 pages of FDOT daily work reports for the project.
Those records show FDOT bosses gave the contractor a week off after Hurricane Irma but also approved more than 120 extra days which weren’t affected by bad weather or holiday traffic at all.
In fact, daily reports on many of those days noted “weather did not affect any work efforts” and records show work continued with crews performing paving, milling, sign posting, landscaping and concrete operations on those days.
But the extra days allowed the contractor – Condotte America, Inc. – more time to complete the project, potentially saving the company from paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for delays.
Condotte America, Inc. has yet to respond to multiple calls and emails requesting comment.
But the I-Team found the company was not the only state contractor given more time to complete the job.
Last month, an ABC Action News investigation uncovered FDOT added 15,050 days – or about 41 years – to the latest Tampa Bay area road projects.
The I-Team’s findings spurred state Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, to write a letter to FDOT Secretary Kevin Thibault demanding answers.
“It's up to us to hold them accountable,” said Rouson, who represents voters on both sides of Gandy Boulevard in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. “I want an explanation in terms of these weather days – how many are truly weather-related, or whether any were done just to satisfy a contractor's avoidance of paying a penalty.”
David Gwynn, who oversees all FDOT business for the Tampa Bay region insists the Gandy Boulevard contractor didn’t break any rules.
“Every contractor's going to take advantage of what's afforded to them in our rules,” said Gwynn. “If they feel they’re due a weather day and they need that day to finish the project, they’ll apply for it.”
Gwynn said FDOT was only following its own rules when it granted 51 extra weather days because a subcontractor – in charge of installing traffic signals on Gandy Boulevard – left to help with repairs in South Florida after Hurricane Irma. Gwynn said the Gandy project also received extra days when the contractor claimed outside factors held up major work.
Currently, if a contractor can show workers can’t complete just one item on the work list because of weather conditions – even if crews are still working on other items on the work list that day – the contractor can ask for an extra day due to weather.
But those rules may be changing soon.
“The department hears what the public is saying,” said Gwynn.
In the wake of the I-Team investigation, Gov. DeSantis and FDOT Secretary Kevin Thibault have ordered the agency to cut down on delays.
“We heard very clearly from our secretary – and I’m sure he's heard from our governor – that we need to move quicker on these jobs and that's what we're going to do,” said Gwynn. “It wasn't given to us as ‘see what you can come up with.’ It was like ‘find a way to do it’ and so that's what we're going to do.”
Gwynn said FDOT plans to review its policies and procedures to reduce project delays.
Dave Borkan, owner of JJ’s Market and Deli on Gandy Boulevard, said he wants contractors held to the same standards as everyone else.
“If I take a catering contract and show up three days late, something tells me the people are going to be awfully unhappy,” said Borkan.
He said the Gandy project delays made it hard for customers to get to his store and left him frustrated.
“We as taxpayers should expect that it gets done in sort of a timely manner,” said Borkan. “And if they're not, maybe we need new contractors.”
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