OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. - Quick facts:
- The $95 million I-40 and Choctaw Road interchange project will bring record dollars to disadvantaged business enterprises (DBE).
- The department of transportation reportedly lowered a preliminary DBE goal from 13 percent to 7 percent, saying there were not enough DBE options for a particular category involving interstate surfacing work.
- Responding to DBE concerns, the department was able to raise that goal back to 9 percent.
Local businesses contractors say they feel they are getting the short end of the stick when it comes to the amount of money they'll receive from the state's largest federally funded construction project.
Representative Regina Goodwin says a meeting was held Wednesday at the Oklahoma Department of Transportation to ensure they were following state guidelines.
The more than $95 million project, one of the highest dollar amounts in state history, will make more money available to disadvantaged business enterprises than in any other contract in state history.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, disadvantaged business enterprises (DBE) are “for-profit small business concerns where socially and economically disadvantaged individuals own at least a 51% interest and also control management and daily business operations”
The large Oklahoma project highlights the lack of available DBEs in certain areas, which, at times, can give sole advantage to one DBE and disadvantage others, making reviews necessary.
The department has a program to develop its DBE plan so the base is healthier for bigger projects like I-40 Choctaw Road, increasing the availability of DBE companies, which officials say will not only benefit the department but also the taxpayers.
Often after an initial DBE goal is calculated, it goes through an evaluation process, which is a collaborative effort between engineers, construction experts and others within the department, before it becomes official.
In the I-40 Choctaw case, however, this process had not been finalized when the goal was released prematurely.
Once the preliminary goal went through the process, officials said it became apparent the number was ambitious, and for that reason, along with the fact that there are not enough available DBEs for a particular category involving extensive interstate surfacing work, the goal was lowered.
The department was approached with concerns from the DBE community about a disadvantaged business enterprise goal reduction from a preliminary goal of 13 percent to 7 percent on an unofficial proposal for the I-40 Choctaw Road project. Primary contractors said they were concerned that reaching that goal would be very difficult due to lack of availability.
In response to the DBE community's concerns about the lowering, the state department of transportation considered how it could responsibly raise the goal, and officials identified elements within the surfacing category, such as prime coat application and structure removal, that allowed for an increase to a minimum 9 percent.
While this is a minimum, the department always encourages prime contractors to exceed DBE participation.
Though each business is justified to look after its own wellbeing and profits, the department has to look at all the DBEs: African American, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, Native American, Female and others, and the laws and procedures have to be followed for all of them.
The Oklahoma Department of Transportation’s DBE Program helps disadvantaged businesses who choose to be in the program, meet established criteria and be considered for a specific type of work needed by prime contractors.
I-40 and Choctaw Rd. interchange will be reconstructed and the road widened to six lanes between Choctaw Rd. (mm 167) and Peebly Rd. (mm 170). It is expected to be awarded in October. This is part of an overall corridor widening plan between I-240 and Shawnee.
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