TDOT accuses second contractor of using faulty guardrails

Fri May 06, 2005 - Southeast Edition

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) _ A second contractor installed faulty guardrails and possibly overbilled the state for work, Tennessee Department of Transportation officials said Wednesday.

TDOT employees will begin inspecting 4,000 miles of guardrails immediately, Commissioner Gerald Nicely said.

"This is a safety issue, that’s why it’s so pressing," he said.

The inspections should be completed by Sept. 1, TDOT spokeswoman Kim Keelor said. Teams in each of TDOT’s four regions will inspect the state’s guardrails, she said.

TDOT officials informed KRD Corp. President David Stutz in a letter Wednesday that it planned to terminate its three contracts with the company based in the Chattanooga suburb of East Ridge. Efforts by the Chattanooga Times Free Press to reach KRD officials by telephone and in person were unsuccessful.

KRD Corp., which also operates in Georgia, is the second TDOT contractor being investigated for work on Tennessee guardrails, following LU Inc. of Kingston Springs.

A TDOT audit showed LU Inc. routinely installed guardrails sunk into the ground only 12 inches instead of the required 44 inches along state roads. LU’s crews also did not complete replace some damaged guardrail terminals, sometimes using parts that vehicles had hit, the April 12 audit stated.

TDOT officials began investigating KRD in January for what was believed to be an isolated problem on a project in West Tennessee, Keelor said. A whistleblower then told TDOT on Jan. 31 that LU had been shortening guardrails, she said.

"There are similarities in the kinds of shortcuts they appeared to be taking," Keelor said.

KRD also has offices in Rossville, Ga., Destin, Fla., Montgomery, Ala., and Mandeville, La., records show.

The transportation department uses six companies to install and make repairs on most of its guardrails. Sharon Curtis-Flair, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office, said investigators are "taking a look at all of them."

TDOT is working with Tennessee Tech University to develop technology, similar to sonar used to test underground bridge piers, to help with the inspections, Keelor said.

Fallout from the investigation has resulted in one TDOT employee being demoted and another in the process of being suspended indefinitely without pay. Regional Maintenance Supervisor Kenneth Haile was demoted, and proceedings have started to suspend Assistant Regional Maintenance Supervisor Rodney Hollis without pay for an undetermined amount of time, Keelor said.

Gov. Phil Bredesen said Wednesday that the state will recover the costs of repairing the guardrails. The governor said Nicely is re-examining how TDOT oversees its contractors.

"Obviously there was a failure somewhere along the line here," he said. "We can’t simply depend totally on the honesty of our contractors, because once in a while you’re going to get burned."