Wayne County chair: Jail project ‘an embarrassment’

By Steve PardoThe Detroit News

Detroit —Wayne County Commission Chairman Gary Woronchak on Thursday said the county’s jail project has been “an embarrassment,” but the time has come for officials to pick an action.

Woronchak, on the same day commissioners passed a historic regional water authority plan, talked about the jail program with The Detroit News’ editorial board. The Dearborn Democrat said restarting construction on the unfinished jail on Gratiot and Madison is the best option.

“We have two options — neither of which is wonderful. This is in the best interest of taxpayers to not to increase their debt load beyond what is necessary at this time,” Woronchak said.

Over the past several months, commissioners have weighed options on finishing construction at the existing site or building a new jail and justice center at the location of an empty former state prison on Mound Road. The costs have put the Mound Road option out of reach, Woronchak said. He’s written a resolution supporting the Gratiot site that is expected to be passed by a full board Oct. 16.

About $160 million has been spent on the unfinished jail. Estimates on its completion would total $372.5 million, Building a jail, a courthouse and a juvenile detention facility at the Mound Road site would cost up to $651 million, according to county estimates.

Commissioners approved $300 million in bonds when the plan was approved in 2011. Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano ordered the project halted in June of last year, when estimates soared to $391 million.

The existing site is the best of the less-than-ideal options, he said.

“Nobody’s happy,” Woronchak said. “This project is an embarrassment that has had these overruns and these delays but we have a responsibility to build a jail — to finish something somewhere,” he said. “And to make the best out of what’s here.”

spardo@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2112