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Drivers upset over project delays in Richmond Hill

The Highway 144 project was supposed to be finished last year
Published: Jul. 19, 2021 at 5:29 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - It’s a road project that was supposed to be finished nearly a year ago. Now, drivers who use Highway 144 in Richmond Hill want answers.

Don Maxwell moved to the area from Alabama this year to be closer to family. He said he doesn’t understand why the street-widening project has taken this long.

“The area itself is wonderful, the people are wonderful. But the road construction is bad slow.”

Georgia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jill Nagel says she understands the frustration.

“We are looking at the finish line,” she said.

The five mile street-widening project started back in August of 2018. Crews are widening the highway from two to four lanes - between Timber Trail and Belfast River roads. GDOT awarded APAC-Atlantic with the $27,000,000 contract, which is paid for through state and federal funds.

The project was supposed to be finished last fall. But Nagel said crews kept running into unmarked utility lines. Each time, that sent progress to a screeching halt.

“So, those had to be relocated. And that caused some construction delays,” Nagel said. “It was a utility issue.”

But while the utility companies may be at-fault, Nagel confirmed taxpayers are on the hook for the extra costs caused by the delays. That original $27,000,000 figure has now jumped to $28,300,000.

GDOT provided us a list of some of the additional costs:

  • $646,631.65 for extra work at Town Center and McCallister Pointe
  • $61,274.85 for extra work for construction of sound wall foundation
  • $18,105.00 for extra work to install insertion valves on 12″ water main
  • $376,000.00 extra work for extension agreement, resolution of claims
  • $47,750.00 for extra work for drainage modifications
  • $1,149,761.50 in additional work and claims resolution

WTOC asked if GDOT would fine the utility companies at-fault for the unmarked lines. Nagel told us utility locates are governed by the Public Service Commission under Georgia’s 411 dig law. She said it’s up to the contractor to report noncompliance utilities to the commission to be resolved.

“These construction delays associated with this additional work are unavoidable,” Nagel said. But Maxwell says, it’s not just the delays. He said crews have been slow to remove any traffic cones and have even plopped some right in the way of open traffic lanes.

“Half of the road is not usable. Yet, the paving is done and all of that. So, I don’t know why they haven’t opened it up,” Maxwell said. Nagel said there’s a reason the barrels are still up.

“We don’t want to remove the barrels and then come back and put in lane closures every day,” Nagel said. “That frustrates people.”

Nagel said she hopes people will drive safe and focus on what’s ahead - a four-lane highway with a new median, sidewalks and bike lanes.

Maxwell said it can’t come soon enough.

“It’s a mess,” he said. “It’s getting better. I think it’s going to be wonderful when it’s through. But we need to get it on.” Nagel said it will be here in no time.

“It did take us a little longer to get there, but we’re right at the finish line,” she said.

The day this story was set to air, GDOT informed WTOC that the project is now set to open to traffic on Thursday, July 22. The most recent amended completion date was August 16. Nagel said the contractor told GDOT there will still be some intermittent lane closures to finish some minor work that’s left.

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