The expansion of the county's crowded regional jail system has been delayed indefinitely, after the Board of County Supervisors this week rejected two bids that exceeded the project's budget.

County officials had hoped to begin a $50 million expansion of the Prince William-Manassas Regional Adult Detention Center in the fall. But the project attracted only two contractors' bids this month, and they were an average of 17 percent above the county's budget for the jail expansion. The two contractors, Hess Construction Co. and W.M. Schlosser Co., proposed completing the project at price tags of $58.6 million and $59.2 million, respectively.

The delay of the start of the project could also push back its completion, which was expected in fiscal 2007, according to county officials. The jail's expansion includes the addition of 400 beds, the hiring of 110 employees and installation of a new kitchen and medical facilities.

The county's jail system, which has two buildings and a work-release center behind the courthouse in Manassas, is crowded, a condition that, if exacerbated, could threaten the safety of both inmates and jail officials. The jail is designed to hold 740 inmates daily, but sometimes the occupancy rises above that. At one point this month, there were 754, said Col. Charles "Skip" Land, the jail's superintendent.

"When you add police cars, expand the courthouse, and the population keeps climbing, something's got to give," Land said. "But we're not in a situation that's not manageable."

Chris Martino, the county's finance director, said it is unclear why the bids were so high. He said that county officials will soon begin talks with the project's engineer and architect to figure out why there were so few bidders, especially after several contractors had attended a pre-bid conference to learn about the project.

Martino also said that county officials will also contact the two rejected bidders to determine why their estimates were so high.

"It could be the marketplace, and that [contractors in the Washington area] have all the work they can handle. It's a big project and we did expect to have more competitive bids," Martino said. It is unlikely, he said, that the county will expand its budget for the jail project or reduce its scope.