With the massive expense of relocating all its utilities along the N.C. 24 project area, the Clinton City Council approved hiring an engineering firm to review plans for the estimated $2.4 million endeavor preceding the actual road widening.
The Council unanimously OK’d paying Cavanaugh and Associates $65,000 to represent the city in reviewing plans, coordinating required revisions and acting as a direct contact to the city for all project coordination with the N.C. Department of Transportation.
The firm would be able “to ensure the city’s interests are met both functionally and financially” in utility changes that affect a significant portion of the city’s infrastructure, city manager Shawn Purvis said.
“As NCDOT expands N.C. 24, the city is responsible for the cost of utility changes that occur,” Purvis noted. “The original estimate was approximately $1.3 million. This estimate has now climbed to $2.4 million. The city has been involved in concept only and not had an engineering presence in discussions with N.C. DOT.”
State transportation officials have said the relocation of utilities within Clinton must happen before construction begins.
“We have a great relationship with N.C. DOT but we would like to audit the plans and look at them in our own best interests, to make sure they serve us as well as they can,” said Clinton Public Works director Jeff Vreugdenhil. “We would like to look at every detail, from the location of fire hydrants to the grade of sewer to the alignment of water and how connections are made”
The overall N.C. 24 widening project proposes a four-lane roadway stretching for 40 miles — from Cumberland County to Interstate 40 near Warsaw, divided by a median and with intersections at major crossroads — although segments in eastern Sampson and Duplin are not currently funded. In Sampson, smaller municipalities will be bypassed from the west before returning to the existing roadbed east of Bonnetsville to Coharie Drive.
From Coharie Drive to Faircloth Freeway, the portion where utilities will be affected, the existing roadbed will be used for expansion.
“We have the financial burden to move all our utilities in the projected path of the N.C. 24 widening — that’s sewer, water, water meters, hydrants … it is a very complicated project,” said Vreugdenhil. “This is a very, very challenging project. It is a very large project.”
Vreugdenhil said it would be “very prudent” to engage an engineering firm to have as a liaison between the city and DOT in the 15-month projected window before construction. In addition to utility work, the firm could examine the physical look of the project, such as medians and lighting.
Cavanaugh would provide a comprehensive look at a cost of less than 2 percent of the $2.4 million project price tag, Vreugdenhil noted.
“There may be some things that can be done differently to save (overall) costs,” Vreugdenhil said.
Gus Simmons, with Cavanaugh and Associates, said the firm would be an extension of the city.
“It’s really looking at that set of plans from your eye, looking at it on behalf of the city to ensure that every dollar you’re investing in utility relocation will satisfy the needs of the Department of Transportation as well as satisfy your needs for doing it cost-effectively, planning for the future and ensuring that it serves your citizens well,” Simmons said.
Taking into account the size and complexities of the project, Council members said it would be good to have more experts involved.
“This is a large project for a town our size,” Councilman Steve Stefanovich. “Can we feel comfortable in saving at least as much as we’re paying you to review these plans for us?”
Simmons said that was the goal. City staff concurred.
“That’s the hope,” Purvis remarked. “This project jumped in just $1 million in just the last year as far as what the projections are. We want to make sure we’re getting what we need to.”
The cost will be paid through capital reserve funds — not operational funds — the city saved in anticipation for the utilities relocation and other capital projects and will be absorbed over the next two years, Purvis noted.
Vreugdenhil pointed out that the additional $1 million came out of the local drive not only to relocate utilities, but upgrade and add to them to ensure the groundwork was set for the future growth an expanded N.C. 24 will bring.
The initial $1.3 million figure was based on an “unengineered, undesigned estimate,” the Public Works director said. It included a single water main on one side of the road. In prior discussions with DOT, Vreugdenhil said it would be in the city’s interest to have parallel 12-inch water mains on each side of the road for future additions and expansions and fire protection.
“We won’t have to tap from one side of the road to the other anymore, and it gives us all the good opportunities we need to loop water lines. It gives us a maximum capability,” said Vreugdenhil. “It will all be new — all the meters, all the hydrants. There will be hydrants on each side of the road, so in the event of a fire, you wouldn’t have to pull a hose across N.C. 24 and stop traffic.”
“It is in the city’s best interest to have that … but 4,000 feet of 12-inch water main is not inexpensive.”
Additionally, Cavanaugh will review all quantities of materials to assure the city that required relocations are equitably divided between the city and DOT.
“Those things that are moved, I want to make sure the quantities match up with what we’re paying for,” Vreugdenhil commented, noting a projected 15-month project timeline. “It is a difficult mile of development.”
Apart from utilities cost, the total cost for sidewalk installation from Sampson Community College to the Faircloth Freeway overpass is $312,440, with DOT shouldering 80 percent of that cost. The city will pay the remaining 20 percent, or $62,490, and be responsible for maintaining the sidewalks.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.