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Staff file photo by Jake Daniels / A Passat sedan goes around part of the test track at VW's Chattanooga plant. VW has plans to expand the track so it can test the new SUVs which the company plans to start assembling later this year.

Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant and a city panel have agreed to reject a company's bid for expanding the factory's test track after the firm was the only one to offer a proposal for the project.

After VW reviewed the $2.16 million bid by Thomas Brothers Construction Co. against the budget for the test track expansion, the automaker and the city's Industrial Development Board (IDB) decided to look at other ways to proceed.

Bill Payne, city engineer, said Wednesday at a meeting of the board that VW officials, rather than work through the city, will likely look at pursuing that expansion project themselves.

The plan had been to pay for the test track additions out of the $52.5 million in incentive money provided by the city and Hamilton County to land the $900 million plant expansion for the sport utility vehicle, on which production is to start late this year.

The expansion of the test track includes construction of a figure-eight course so the carmaker can evaluate its new SUV's four-wheel drive features.

"We are extending the existing rattle track, which is used to verify quality standards on completed vehicles, to accommodate testing needs for the new midsize SUV," said VW Chattanooga spokesman Scott Wilson.

Resolution blocked

In other business, the board deadlocked in a 3-3 vote on a proposal that opponents claimed would have been a blow to transparency in city government.

The resolution would have authorized the Industrial Development Board (IDB) chairman, vice chairman or city attorney to enter into settlement agreements, such as in lawsuits involving companies doing business with the board where there was no liability to the panel.

"We can simply go forward and let the parties enter into the agreement on cases where the IDB has no exposure," said City Attorney Wade Hinton. After the settlement, he said he could come back with a report at the next public meeting.

However, panel member Jimmy Rodgers Jr. said the board and the city need to have prior knowledge of such settlements and lawsuits.

"I think having it on the agenda would help that," he said.

Alan Lebovitz, another panel member, said he didn't have a problem with the resolution.

"I get the impression that there are situations where things need to happen sooner rather than later," he said. "So we don't want to hold these situations up."

After the vote that effectively blocked the resolution's passage, Franklin McCallie of the citizen watchdog group Accountability for Taxpayer Money lauded the panel's action.

"I've been saying to the administration let's have transparency Everybody ought to have transparency, every city body, every administrative group, every developer and attorney that comes into the place ought to be transparent with us," he said. "It's just the way government is better."

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

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