State transportation officials said this week that the N.C. 24 project in Sampson County should be substantially complete by the end of this year, with anticipated completion in January 2019, some 14 months past the initial target.
Keith Eason, district/resident engineer for N.C. Department of Transportation, gave an update on the project this week to the Sampson County Board of Commissioners at the behest of Commissioner Jerol Kivett, who took DOT to task over the perceived lack of progress, saying complaints were omnipresent.
Work on the entire N.C. 24 project began in October 2013 and was, for a time, slated for a November 2017 completion. That was then revised to March 2018 and, last year, DOT officials said the timeline for the project was delayed to early 2019, with utility relocation in Clinton possibly extending that even further.
“That’s an additional 433 days,” Eason said of the revised completion date, compared to the original November 2017. “A majority of that — somewhere around 320 days — was due to a lot of trouble with outside utility relocation early on, just getting a lot of those out of the way to get the project rolling. That did a lot of the damage up front, that nobody really saw. So (the contractor) has been allowed those days.”
Kivett said concerns about the project were widespread, to include everyday motorists, as well as the 400 members of Immanuel Baptist Church, who are now dealing with adverse effects of the project and its utility relocation.
“I have never built a road … but it seems to have been poorly managed and designed, just from the outside looking in,” said Kivett. “This is what we’re hearing from everybody who rides by there every day. There seems to be very little progress going on and very little construction going on, and no workers around. Everyone is complaining — it just takes so much time to go from point A to point B, and then turn around and come back, and it’s the same every time.”
“That’s what we’re hearing,” Kivett continued. “Can you tell us why that’s the case?”
Eason said he understood the concerns and apologized for any delays faced by motorists.
The 40-mile N.C. 24 Improvement Project running through the center of Sampson County will serve as a major connector between Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune. When completed, the nearly half-billion dollar project will consist of a four-lane highway, stretching from Cumberland County to I-40 near Warsaw. The project is broken down into four segments stretching from Cumberland County to U.S. 421/701 Bypass (Faircloth Freeway) in Clinton.
A fifth segment extending from Faircloth Freeway past Moltonville Road is planned for the future.
The completed A and B segments have already brought a significant facelift to Cumberland and western Sampson. Segments C and D are both completely in Sampson, with C extending from Dowdy Road to SR 1303 (Mitchell Loop Road) and D going from Mitchell Loop Road to Faircloth Freeway.
Segment C has been delayed somewhat, Eason said, due to the N.C. 242/24 interchange. He said “substantial completion” is anticipated by December for that segment of that project.
A portion of Segment D, from Mitchell Loop to the bridges over the Coharie is “virtually complete,” Eason noted.
“We have not accepted that, but we are going to do a partial acceptance on that,” the engineer said. “Once that’s done, the contractor is going to focus on the work in Clinton. If you’ve been through there, you’ve seen a lot of barrels, a lot of construction. At times, it does seem slow because the contractor is starting to get in small places so he’s having to work in small sections now because he’s getting to the end of work.”
The Fred Smith Company Construction is handling those C and D segments, which combined for a nearly $100 million project area that includes 16 miles of highway construction, eight new bridges, 78,000 linear feet of curb and gutter, 60,000 linear feet of water and sewer line, 72,000 linear feet of storm drainage and 370,000 tons of asphalt, according to previous figures provided by the contractor.
Eason said once the asphalt work is completed on the outside, traffic will shift to those new outside lanes so median work can be finished, including the islands that will be constructed. That will leave a final resurfacing.
“We anticipate the majority of that work to also be done this calendar year,” Eason remarked. “There could be some asphalt work, some outliers, that could push that further, but right now revised completion date is Jan. 22, 2019.”
Eason said “there could be potential delays still,” but those are not anticipated as of now. Substantial completion for the final two segments in Sampson is expected by the end of the year.
Asked about the potential for night work, and the possibility of easing traffic congestion and expediting the project, Eason said that would come with additional cost and is not as efficient.
Kivett said he has talked with DOT officials about the plight of parishioners at Immanuel Baptist, and said DOT doesn’t seems to be very concerned. He said they are “very upset,” feeling they have been shortchanged by the project. The church is located on Sunset Avenue (N.C. 24), between Carlie C’s and the Post Office.
“You purchased land from them and they were told that utilities would be underground,” said Kivett. “They are kind of boxed in, and they can’t even put a sign out front now and all the utilities are above ground. They had two poles when it started, and now they have three. They’ve been told the design changed because (the state) ran out of money. They feel they’ve been shortchanged and I agree with them. I don’t think they’ve been treated fairly.”
At the same time, Kivett pointed to a sidewalk that was put in front of the Post Office right next door that he said “probably won’t have two people in 10 years walking down it.”
“It seems like the blind leading the blind here,” Kivett remarked.
He urged DOT officials to meet with people at the church to see what can be done to help them. Eason said he was aware of some discussions that have already taken place, and said the church has been presented “some options” moving forward, saying it was a matter that was still ongoing.
“As with a lot of other situations, it’s tough for everyone to be satisfied,” said chairman Clark Wooten. “All we ask is to try to inform people, and treat them fair and equitable. It’s been a long process. Everybody’s been frustrated. In construction, like everybody knows, there’s pitfalls that are unforeseen.”
Resident Susan Tucker asked to speak to the issue, and Wooten said he would allow it “against my better judgment.” Tucker said she came to the meeting specifically to talk to DOT. She said she talked with DOT, including Eason, and he had been nice, but that she had taken her concerns to the local and state level.
“I just feel as a citizen, we have had the runaround in Sampson County for three years,” said Tucker. “It looks horrible out on 24.”
In addition to the legion of orange barrels, she mentioned trash being thrown around the project area.
“There should be some supervision out there,” said Tucker. “Don’t leave our town looking like a war zone. I think the county commissioners, the City Council and mayor and the county manager all should be mad. We’re paying for it and we’re living in it, and somebody needs to do something. Y’all are elected officials and you should be taking a more active role in seeing that it’s finished, and that our town is cleaned up.”
“We’re all just as concerned as you,” said Kivett, “but there are limits to what we can do. We talk to people who are supposed to be in charge of this. They don’t work for us. We’d love to see things improve.”
Managing Editor Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 2587.