A project that has overtaken N.C. 24 in Clinton in the form of orange barrels and lane closings, while already bringing growth to the area and expected to only attract more, is anticipated to cost more local funds and is now scheduled for a delayed February 2019 completion.
With several N.C. Department of Transportation officials present, City of Clinton engineer Russell W. Byrd gave an update to the City Council at its regular monthly meeting Tuesday. Kevin Bowen, division construction engineer for DOT, was among four DOT officials present and offered much of the insight on the state’s end.
Byrd said city officials have worked closely with DOT and the project’s contractor, Fred Smith Company. He gave an in-depth timeline dating back to the project’s genesis in 2013 and each major milestone along the way.
“Progress on construction is going on at an increasing pace,” Byrd said. “Probably the most intense phase of construction is about to begin and that is the installation of storm drainage along the westbound outside lane.”
Byrd did note some “unanticipated sewer rehabilitation” that would likely cost the city more money. Last summer, DOT officials directed Fred Smith Company to prepare cost proposals to comprehensively evaluate the existing sewer system. It was found that sewer rehabilitation in Clinton would cost approximately $1.2 million.
Byrd said city officials have been meeting with DOT since May to get those numbers whittled down. The $1.2 million will likely be closer to $500,000, Bowen noted.
“This is an additional change we didn’t foresee,” Mayor Lew Starling noted.
“No one had conceived the idea of having to do the rehabilitation,” Byrd added. “The original plan was to relocate everything out of the roadway, except the line that is in the middle of the road and under (Faircloth Freeway) bridge — because it can’t be. We are still waiting on some responses back. We are not recommending to you to spend $1.2 million.”
He did recommend foregoing a Pierce Street extension, which the city authorized at a cost of $500,000 two years ago, in order to cut costs.
“As the work begins to intensify, there will be a lot going on. We are very conscious of the cost, and in view of that, we have decided to forego the Pierce Street extension at this time, until we have a firmer price on what that rehab is likely to be,” Byrd remarked.
The 40-mile N.C. 24 Improvement Project running through the center of Clinton and Sampson County will serve as a major connector between Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune and is expected to bring economic growth to the area — and already has.
When completed, the $400 million-plus project will consist of a four-lane highway, stretching from Cumberland County to I-40 near Warsaw. Work on the entire project began in October 2013 and was, for a time, slated for March 2018 completion. That is now an early 2019 timeline.
“They are on track with the current schedule,” said Bowen, noting that schedule had recently changed. “There has been approximately a year of time extension due to utility delays. That’s a considerable time extension. The current completion date is February 2019. We seem to be on schedule for that.”
In Clinton, a municipal agreement between the city and DOT for relocation of utilities was executed back in March 2013. It was to cost $2,232,061, including the installation and relocation of water lines, relocation of some portions of the city’s sanitary sewer lines — with others to remain in place — but did not anticipate or include any rehabilitation of sewer. That contract was awarded to Smith in December 2013.
“The agreement that is in place now for utilities did not anticipate in any way, shape, form or fashion, rehabilitation. And the scope has changed several times,” Byrd noted. “I think it’s better to go back and look at this.”
“We just thought it made sense to go back and revisit this agreement,” Bowen added. “It is a change in the scope. It’s the same project and the same bit of roadway, but rather than relocating a pipe, we want to leave the pipe in place and do a suitable repair on a pipe that is there.”
Back in the spring of 2015, utility construction began in Clinton, with the water main replacement being completed in the summer of 2016. Council authorized the addition of water and sewer mains within the new roadway (Pierce Street Extension) as part of the DOT’s work.
City Councilman Steve Stefanovich said he wanted to keep the Pierce Street extension, which the city previously authorized at a cost of $500,000, if at all possible.
“We would as well,” Byrd replied, “but the reality is the contractor paved the street without putting in the utilities.”
“They paved it, didn’t put (utilities) in and we haven’t heard from Fred Smith,” said Stefanovich.
Byrd said it was a discussion that had been ongoing for two and a half years. Bowen, an employee with DOT for more than two decades but still fairly new to the DOT project in Clinton, said the DOT was not in a place at that point where it could cease the contract with Smith without incurring costs.
“There was no contract in place for that water and sewer. There was an effort to pursue that water and sewer to get it in place, but there was never a time when Fred Smith was told to stop,” said Bowen. “It’s unfortunate. There are still ways that water and sewer could be had there if funding was there for it. Modifications could be made and (utilities) would have to be on the shoulder of the road to minimize the pavement cuts.”
Bowen said he understood the frustration, and couldn’t speak to why the paving was done before utilities were placed.
As part of the project, DOT and city staff decided to install parallel water lines on both sides of certain portions of the construction corridor, in anticipation of redevelopment in the area. Once the water line portion of the work was completed in the spring of 2016, costs were fast approaching the municipal agreement allotment of $2,232,061.
“We have about $600,000 in additional water lines installed at the city’s request,” Bowen said. “There is some additional cost that the city has gained in betterment of water line.”
“In order to offset the cost of additional parallel water mains and rehab of the existing sewer lines, it is the recommendation of staff that construction of the additional water and sewer lines proposed for Pierce Street extension, be deferred until such time as there is a need to do so,” Byrd stated.
Council concurred that DOT direct Fred Smith Company to perform necessary point repairs to the sewer system on the western portion of the project, between Shields Street and Forest Drive, due to the imminent storm drainage installation within the area.
“They are upwards of 100 years of age and they need to be repaired,” Byrd said of the line. “It is hoped and expected that performing these point repairs now will minimize both cost and further disruption of traffic flow.”
Depending on the condition of the existing sewer system after completion of the point repairs and the storm drainage installation, certain portions of the sewer system will likely need some additional rehabilitation.
“We will not know that until the work is done,” Byrd said. “We want to ensure once the work is completed, we will not have a substandard system there — that it is something we can all be proud of and it will be indefinite.”
Any other required point repairs to the sewer system located outside of the N.C. 24 corridor can be made later by the city as funds allow. City and DOT staff are in ongoing discussions regarding landscaping options for the median islands.
Traffic safety concerns have been raised by citizens regarding the danger of left turns, especially at the Fox Lake and Coharie Drive intersection. Current plans do not include a traffic signal at this location, however Bowen said that can also be further evaluated.
“That is a concern,” Byrd remarked, “particularly with those left turns.”
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.