Lack of Competition Still Issue in Latest Highway Bids
(Story created: 6/11/04)
Millions of dollars in state road contracts were up for grabs on Friday. The Tennessee Department of Transportation unsealed bids on 61 projects across the state. But despite the increased focus on Tennessee's High-Dollar Highways, not much has changed.
This comes weeks after a NewsChannel 5 investigation into Tennessee's high dollar highways raised questions about possible big rigging by state highway contractors.
Contractors were there to see who was the low bidder and who would be likely to get the job.
But in nearly one-fourth of the sixty one projects, there was only one bidder. It means the state is prepared to spend more than $8 million on projects where there was no competition.
"Commissioner Nicely is personally going to be looking at all those single bids after this letting extremely closely as will all of our senior staff," said TDOT spokesperson Kim Keelor.
In fact, our NewsChannel 5 investigation found that over the past five years, TDOT has awarded $360 million of taxpayer money to road projects with just one bid.
Commissioner Nicely has asked the attorney general to investigate the state's road contracts.
On Friday, there were 14 projects with only one bidder.
"Sometimes there are very good reasons for a single bid. Sometimes there's not an asphalt plant any where near that area," Keelor explained.
Many of the single bid projects are in less populated counties.
But in Sumner County, NewsChannel 5 found two projects in which only one company bid. The projects total more than $1 million.
Most of the contracts on Friday had several bidders. Companies walked away knowing they didn't get everything they bid on.
The state is investigating whether contractors have divided up parts of the state and agreed not to bid in certain areas.
That would be bid rigging.
There's no proof right now, but the investigation is underway. TDOT is making some changes in the whole bidding process by closing the bidders list. That means contractors can't see who else is bidding.
They also plan to start taking bids electronically.