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Remarks, Press Conference, I-69 Section 5 Construction Delays, 9.7.16

Remarks, Press Conference, I-69 Section 5 Construction Delays
Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton


I know many of you had difficulty getting here today due to a serious accident in a construction zone. This comes on the heels of another construction zone accident involving 8 vehicles and serious injuries just last Friday. My first job as mayor is public safety. The seemingly ever-delayed nature of this construction and the danger it poses travelers are unacceptable.

I understand that in large projects like this unforeseen events or complications can arise. I also understand that when government tries new things and experiments, setbacks can happen, and that doesn't mean we shouldn't experiment.

However, Section 5 of I-69 construction is in a mess. The experiment of Public-Private Partnership has failed, due apparently to a mix of circumstances: bankruptcy of the parent company; disputes between lead contractor and design contractor; failure of payment to major subcontractors. The proof is a delay of 8 months - not due to weather or other technical production issues so far as evident. And an additional delay now, again due to management and financing. You can see idle machinery and empty work zones.

I strongly urge the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, and their administration, to step in and fix this mess, before further damage is done to our economy, our community, and the safety and lives of our residents and visitors.

For at least the third time in the last 12 months, one of three major subcontractors, a local Bloomington construction company, has had to walk off the job - stop working, stop paying its workforce - because this project has been mismanaged and bills for completed work haven't been paid.

In a project that was to have been completed within the next month, we now face, it seems, at least another year of construction, perhaps significantly longer. Every week it's not completed is a week of inconvenience, lost productivity, and worse, risks to life and limb.

As so aptly raised by Representative Matt Pierce in a letter on Friday, with a project that can't be constructed efficiently, there is great worry that the maintenance and operations won't be smooth either. Will snow be plowed from the roads as inefficiently as construction has taken place? Will repairs be made just as inefficiently? Will winter construction zones be appropriately designed and maintained?

Again, I understand that in big projects, issues can arise. And I'm not against experimenting in government - trying new ways to get things done. But this is a debacle and my community and our neighbors are all suffering because state government hasn't kept its end of the bargain. The road is built with tax dollars, and belongs to the public. The government has the ultimate responsibility to make sure it is built safely and efficiently. It is far past time for this administration to step in, ensure payment, and get this road completed as soon as possible. I want to see the hundreds of able, Hoosier workers who want to do the work and finish the job, out on the job earning their paychecks and getting our work done.

To date, what I've heard from Indianapolis is bureaucratic talk: we're monitoring the situation, or we're instructing the contractor to manage the process, or we're implementing the terms of the contract. I'm sorry, but that just doesn't cut it. We have serious accidents happening - 8 vehicles on Friday and another today - sending people to the hospital and bringing traffic and commerce to a frustrating halt. We have a home football game here at IU on Saturday. And every day hundreds and thousands of hard-working Hoosiers are just trying to go about their business - getting to work, getting to and from the airport, bringing their daughters and sons to school, visiting relatives - and the administration's inaction is making their lives more difficult and more dangerous than they should be."

Background: Construction on Section 5 of I-69 began in 2014 and was to be completed in October 2016. In July of 2016 a bond rating agency downgraded the private activity bonds financing the project to junk-bond status and cautioned that construction pace must dramatically increase during August and September to accomplish the new June 2017 completion date.

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