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Why isn’t it done yet?

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By Rachel Johnson, Staff Writer

 

SHALLOTTE—The long awaited Smith Avenue Project is delayed yet again.

The original completion date of Oct. 1, 2010, has come and gone. So have the late December, early spring and late May anticipated completion dates. And it appears the July Fourth completion date will also come and go without the disappearance of the orange-and-white traffic barrels lining Main Street and Smith Avenue.

“We are out there chugging along,” said Wayne Currie, North Carolina Department of Transportation resident engineer. “I hope by sometime in late July they will be through. It is hard to try to estimate when it will be completed. It is up to the contractor’s schedule.”

The only problem Currie cited that has arisen in the last few weeks with the project is the challenge of summer traffic.

“I can’t point to any one thing (causing the delays); it is just going to be a bit longer,” Currie said.

“We are looking at probably the middle to the end of July,” said Charlie Manning, division manager with S.T. Wooten Corporation. “A project that size to be able to anticipate within 10 days is tough. Things are going well.”

Manning said once the final paving is complete, final striping and a final traffic pattern will be established with signals in their permanent location and timing configuration.

“Also, we are going to be in the coming couple weeks tying in at Holden Beach Road,” Manning said. “All of that will be coming together.”

Throughout the longevity of the project, delays caused by rainy, wet weather and excessive cold weather, as well as utility issues, have plagued the project.

“There are a lot of underground utilities that go through there on Main Street,” Manning said. “It is really no fault of anybody. As the contractor, we bear the brunt of the cost of those delays. Nobody is at fault…you start a project and deal with the issues as you encounter them.”

The weather played a major role in the delays, and both NCDOT and town officials recognize this as an unforeseen issue stalling the project. September 2010 saw an excessive amount of rainfall as tropical storms moved through the area.

“We have been very fortunate in the latter part of the job with weather,” Manning said. “At the beginning of the job there were a lot of weather delays. We are not granted any time for weather delays but it certainly extends our project. It was very wet in the beginning followed by two extremely cold winters in a row.”

As the orange traffic barrels linger in town, business owners, residents and town leaders have expressed their frustration with the length of the project.

“We know it needed to be done, but it’s a shame how it’s affecting local businesses,” said Michael Pease, Shallotte alderman.

Since becoming mayor earlier this year Alan Lewis has been in touch with NCDOT resident engineer Ben Hughes on a weekly basis.

“We are as frustrated as the business owners,” Lewis said. “The town is asking questions and doing everything we can but because it is a DOT project our hands our tied. We have let DOT know our concerns.”

Lewis has been advised the majority of the problem stems from the contractor S.T. Wooten being overextended with two other projects occurring simultaneously in Brunswick County. Additional projects include the new hospital and Village Road in Leland.

“We share the frustration with DOT,” Lewis said. “They don’t seem to be putting adequate resources into the project because of the other projects in the county. S.T. Wooten is being penalized $1,000 a day for assessed liquidated damages since Oct. 1, 2010. It has been a source of frustration for the past six months now because we just don’t see much activity.”

The majority of the work left to be completed includes final paving.

“All the paving must be done at night,” Currie said. “The biggest thing you will see now is the final stages of getting the rest of the curb and gutter work completed, traffic signal work and paving and striping.”

Asked if DOT had any messages to the residents and business owners of Shallotte who are frustrated with the project’s continued delays, Currie asked for patience.

“Be patient, and just hopefully it will be all worth the wait,” he said.

“At the end of the day, it is going to be a beautiful new road, and we are going to be very proud of the job we did. It is going to be a well-built road,” Manning said.