If construction goes according to the latest plan, the Prince Street project will be finished before the end of the year. The project started in September 2011, and it was said then that it would be finished in time for Thanksgiving in 2012.
City Engineer Ronnie Hall said that the delays come from the need to relocate utilities and acquire right-of-way. The Prince Street project is the city’s first in several years that went outside of the existing street right-of-way. This has meant that the city had to acquire strips of street right-of-way from all Prince Street as construction moved along the street in addition to relocating water, sewer and electrical utilities.
"Whenever you start digging along a street that’s got water lines and sewer cables and telephone lines, you’ve going to have to wait for those things to be moved," Hall said, "and sometimes that can take some time."
Delays on Prince Street have been longer than usual over the past few days because paving equipment is taking up the road. Hall said that by Monday a functioning, if incomplete, roundabout should be ready for traffic at Prince Street and Salem Road, and the traffic lights there will be plucked out soon thereafter. With this done, traffic can be moved to the outermost lanes and work can be completed on the remaining medians and curbing, Hall said.
Jack Bell, city chief of staff, added that accommodating Prince Street businesses has delayed the project as well, with input from business owners resulting in changes to curb cuts (vehicle access points to businesses) or breaks in the median at their request. Also, the city has made changes to enlarge at least one business parking lot, Bell said.
Brian Porterfield, sales manager for the Ace Hardware store on Morningside Drive, saw the initial Thanksgiving, 2012 deadline come and go along with the several other projected completion dates that have passed. He said he’s also seen the number of people in his store decrease as "people change their driving habits" because of roadwork.
"The end result is going to be great," Porterfield said. "Is this new street going to make this a great-looking part of town? Is this going to alleviate traffic problems? Yes, and we’ll be thrilled to have the project completed, we just would like it to have been done more efficiently."
Porterfield said that, to his mind, a city concerned with flat sales tax revenue should also be concerned with "holding these contractors accountable for holding up the deadlines they give up front" for projects that affect traffic to local businesses.
The Prince Street contractor is JCI Construction, Inc., out of Mayflower. Both Hall and Bell said that the contractor can’t be faulted for the delays, which Hall described as "typical" for the type of project and Bell said was "not out of the ordinary."
According to Bell, the original end-date of November 2012 was more of an estimate than a deadline, and the city as a rule doesn’t impose financial penalties on streetwork contractors for missing stated end-dates.
"What you get when you have [deadlines and penalties] are contractors who factor that into their bid and then charge more on the front end." Bell said.
The November, 2012 estimate, Bell continued, was a "best case" prediction not accounting for weather or unforeseen difficulties in acquiring right-of-way, relocating utilities, or changing the plan. He also acknowledged that the delays have caused frustration for Prince Street business owners who hoped the project would be done in time for last year’s holiday shopping season and still hope it will be wrapped befor this one is over.
Going forward, he said, giving affected business owners a more realistic end-date estimate for street projects "is something we’ll definitely be looking at."
Hall said that the overall cost for the project, including right-of-way acquisition and landscaping, is going to be "approaching $4.5 million," which he said was within budget.
(Staff writer Joe Lamb can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1277. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)