After delays and pauses over several months, visible work has resumed on a city of Statesboro-funded project to widen turn radiuses for traffic – including fire engines, ambulances and police cars – at the intersection of West Grady and South College streets.
“We have public safety offices down the road that utilize that intersection multiple times on a daily basis, and that’s important,” said Assistant City Manager Jason Boyles. “But also just for the general traveling public, whether you’re in a passenger car or a pickup truck, it’s important to be able to make a safe turning maneuver and stay in your lane and not have to be on the curb or swing wide into oncoming traffic.”
Citizens and a few city officials had complained over the years that this intersection required drivers to make some of the tightest turns in town. The Grady Street approaches had been painted with center turn lanes, but the pavement was only a little wider than a typical two-lane street, and sidewalks jutted to sharp corners.
In the fall of 2017 the city sought offers from buyers capable of moving a circa 1920 wood-frame house, which had previously served as the Municipal Court office, from the corner nearest the Statesboro Police Department headquarters. But city officials received no bids they found acceptable, and the house eventually was torn down. Officials said this would allow for both widening the intersection and paving an additional parking area to serve the Police Department and the Municipal Court.
Statesboro Fire Department Station 1 and the Bulloch County Emergency Medical Service headquarters are also on West Grady Street.
In preparation for the project, the city also obtained a little additional right of way from the owners of a house and an apartment building on the other side of College Street.
The city then awarded Ellis Wood Contracting a $310,990 contract for street and signal improvements at the intersection. A notice to proceed was issued to the contractor in March 2019, Boyles said.
For months now, plastic barrels and “sidewalk closed” signs have been in place where the old sidewalks were removed on the west side of the intersection adjacent city property.
On the corner where the house was taken down, a new sidewalk, making a wide curve instead of a right angle, is now in place, farther from the existing traffic lanes. But bare earth remains between the street and sidewalk, as has also been the condition for a while.
The contract projected nine months of work, and the notice to proceed was reportedly given about nine months ago.
“The contract is 270 days, but the current delay is no fault of the contractor,” Boyles said Thursday. “We anticipate completion in February.”
Causes of pauses
This week he cited several factors as having slowed the project. These occurred with the city’s coordination of the work, with the contractor obtaining the traffic signal supports the city wanted and with getting utility companies to relocate wires and poles.
“There was a several-month delay – I think it was close to six months – before the signal poles could be installed, and then we finally got the poles in and erected, and I think we ran into some challenges with getting some of the utilities relocated that took longer than anticipated, and I think we also ran into staffing challenges along the way too,” Boyles said. “That didn’t help with the timelines of the project.”
The staffing challenges he referred to occurred within the city administration. Previously the city’s public works and engineering director, Boyles simultaneously served as one of two interim assistant city managers through the first months of 2019 and then as interim city manager in June, until the July 1 arrival of current City Manager Charles Penny.
Meanwhile, the position of city engineer remained vacant 18 months, until John Washington joined the city in that role June 1. Penny then promoted Washington to public works and engineering director in October.
The city had also hired a “T-SPLOST capital projects manager,” specifically for projects funded by the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax approved by Bulloch County voters and collected since October 2018. But the projects manager left after a few months on the job.
The West Grady-South College project is not actually T-SPLOST funded. It is being paid for from the city’s share of the older, multipurpose SPLOST.
But Boyles’ point was that the city experienced shortages and changes in engineering and public works personnel, so oversight of projects had to be reassigned.
New signal supports
The city also used this project to replace the wire-hung traffic lights with lights on four mast arms that extend out from two corner poles. A number of intersections in Statesboro where signals have been installed or replaced in recent years have this kind of supports.
“Every signal pole is made-to-order, basically,” Boyles said.
He said the contractor submitted the specifications to the manufacturer and then had to wait for the poles to be made and delivered.
In the last few months, “coordination of schedules was needed” for the utility lines to be relocated and an old pole or poles removed, Washington said. He and Boyles also mentioned the holidays and wet weather as recent factors.
“So now we’re finally at a point where we’ve gotten the contractor and utilities providers on board with getting everything taken care of so we can get this project wrapped up,” Boyles said.
Expanding the parking area from police headquarters into the now-vacant lot would be a separate, future project, he said.