Marlette: Speaking out for 'our frickin' bridge'
Andy Marlette, News Journal Cartoonist 6:07 p.m. CST December 26, 2015
Now that the season of peace, cheer and goodwill toward men is finally over with, let's rile things back up.
And there's none better to stir the pot than Pensacola's own gadfly superattorney, the one, the only, Mr. Bob Kerrigan.
No, Bob ain't raising heck about The Fish House sign again. "I just thought it was frickin' garish," Kerrigan explains with a grin. "But apparently, I was the only one. So, oh well. I let it go."
This time, he's looking to fry up something much larger than a fish sign. So for folks lazing along at home, you might want to perk up.
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On Dec. 16, Kerrigan fired off a letter to Gov. Rick Scott, whom interestingly, the politically liberal Kerrigan actually likes. "I really respect him," he said. "I think he's a true fiscal conservative and a really good governor on fiscal matters."
Maybe that's why Gov. Scott will take real interest in Kerrigan's recent letter. It raises some serious questions about the Pensacola Bay Bridge replacement and the contract bidding process that's under way.
It's set to be a $500 million project and, as our marvelous reporter Kaycee Lagarde told us back in October, the lucky contractor will get a $15 million bonus if the whole thing is completed in 860 days. I don't know what you drink, but that could buy a whole bunch of bourbon at the Bridge Bar.
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In his letter, Kerrigan calls the project "the largest capital investment ever made in this area." Therefore, he rightly believes that we local yokels should have serious input, involvement and transparency in deciding who and what will replace our current bridge. Amen, right?
Well, that hasn't exactly happened.
Kerrigan said an initial scoring of bids has already taken place in a far-from-transparent manner. And in his letter to the governor, he asserts that he has reason to believe the Northwest Florida Department of Transportation "deliberately skewed the scoring" to remove a world-class, Florida-based bridge builder from the competition.
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That builder is Tallahassee's own FIGG bridge company (figgbridge.com to see some of their stuff). You know the company's work by the Garcon Point Bridge (not their fault, don't hold it against them) and the railroad bridge traversing Escambia Bay. The company's motto is "Creating bridges as art." Kerrigan describes them as specializing in iconic, creative, architectural and environmentally minded structures, which is exactly what he says our bridge ought to be for $500 million.
In other words, with that big, fat wad of dough, FDOT should be able to cook up something truly special and cool-looking with a minimal amount of concrete pushed and pounded down into the bay's ecosystem. Amen, right?
Well, apparently FDOT isn't taking that approach.
Kerrigan says they are treating our $500 million bridge just like they'd bid out any other little span over a stream or river. No creativity. No community input. They're just trying to stick another plain, old stretch of concrete across the bay. "Why are we doing this the same way we'd do a chicken**** bridge in Sopchoppy?!" he asks with a mischievous chuckle.
Even worse, Kerrigan claims that he has a source directly involved in the scoring process who alleges that one FDOT scorer intentionally and inexplicably penalized FIGG's proposal, effectively eliminating them from the running. What were the scores? As of last week, we don't know. The state has not made them available to the public.
But bigger picture, Kerrigan says it's not about the FIGG company or who ultimately gets the megacontract. It's about doing it the way it should be done and building a bridge our community deserves. And in that light, he points to a pattern of glaring FDOT screw-ups in our area. The Scenic Highway massacre of heritage oaks. Avalon Boulevard. A backward-built "s"-curve onto Bayou Boulevard that had to be torn up and redone at taxpayer expense.
In other words, he offers plenty of specific reasons why FDOT isn't to be blindly trusted.
"They say, 'This is what we always do.'" Kerrigan huffed. "What you always do isn't good enough. What you always do is what you did at Scenic Highway! We still don't have any answers from that. Which idiot did it and why wasn't he fired?"
Explaining his frustration with FDOT and the lack of local involvement, Kerrigan says, "Look, they don't have a real great history here. And now they're going to build something that's going to last us more than 50 years? I don't think so! How about a little more information here, guys? How about the criteria you used? How about some renderings? We deserve our own opinions to be heard because it's OUR frickin' bridge."
There's still a lot to dig into with all this. And reporter Lagarde is good at digging.
But maybe some folks think, "That's just Bob again, hollerin' about another Fish House sign."
"That's OK," Kerrigan says. "I raise objections. Some people disagree. That's what we're supposed to do. They can call me a babbling baboon. But we need a level of aggravation to challenge these people."
And in this case, Kerrigan just might be a justified aggravater — a sort of Lorax-like figure (same eyebrows even) standing atop the butchered stump of a Scenic Highway oak tree screaming at all of us to pay attention.
Because if a bloated, big government bureaucracy like the FDOT can screw you over on some oak trees, just imagine what it can do with $500 million.
I found this article after reading the full-page ad in Sunday's PNJ: Bridge to Our Future. I have invited all my local FB friends to "like" the FB page by this name. This bridge will affect all of us...let's get involved.