Smith County seeks firms to analyze roads

Published on Tuesday, 21 January 2014 18:12 - Written by ADAM RUSSELL

County commissioners approved advertising for “requests for qualifications” from engineering firms about long-term planning for county infrastructure and roads.

On Tuesday, the court received a presentation by Jacksonville, Fla.-based engineering firm Reynolds, Smith and Hills, Inc.

Company engineer Kate Wigginton told court members her company would assess county road conditions, analyze traffic and available funding and produce a capital improvement plan for 2015 to 2020.

Assessments would include future land use/development, traffic volume and safety, heavy truck traffic and pedestrian and bicycle access. Ms. Wigginton said she expected an analysis of the county’s 1,100 road miles could be completed within six to nine months.

“The goal is to provide information to let Smith County maximize its dollars,” she said.

Requests for qualifications means the county will seek engineering firms to respond to advertising but then may pick a company based on qualifications (typically done via a scoring system). The price of the professional service is then negotiated.

Commissioners could accept the top qualifier or reject the bid and engage the next best-rated firm.

There was no early estimate as to how much the analysis would cost, although commissioners have said such planning typically costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. That’s why it hasn’t happened, they said.

County Judge Joel Baker said he would like to see the process completed by summer so the findings would be available during the 2015 budget process.

“If we have the five-year plan, it would be better to have it during the budget process, so we can discuss allocation of funding,” Baker said. The adoption of budgets usually occurs from mid-August to mid-September but must be completed by Sept. 31.

Commissioner JoAnn Hampton said a comprehensive long-term plan is long overdue. The last road assessment was completed in 2005 by then-county engineer Bill Bala.

“It’s something we should have done a long time ago,” she said. “It will give us an understanding of what we need to address with regard to roads. Then it comes down to sticking with the plan.”

Other commissioners want to see more firms involved for competitive bidding.

Commissioners Cary Nix and Terry Phillips said the court is seeking a county engineer to head its Road and Bridge Department. They said the previous engineer completed the last comprehensive road assessment and plan by the county.

“We need a good long-range plan, but I’m not going to support one proposal,” Phillips said. “There are other companies out there. I’m for the best product at the best price.”

Phillips also had concerns about one of the principals from RS&H and their involvement in support of creating a local Transportation Reinvestment Zone.

Kate Lindekugel, an environmental specialist with RS&H, introduced representatives to court members. Ms. Lindekugel has been an outspoken advocate for creation of a Transportation Reinvestment Zone within the Toll 49 corridor since December.

Court members are in agreement that a plan is a necessary tool to address the county’s long-term transportation needs.

The county had implemented portions of Bala’s plan to address 125 miles of county roads each year based on priority and then maintain roads in “good or excellent” condition. Projects neared the 100-mile mark the first two years. Bala blamed shortcomings on a lack of funding and rising material costs.