Beaufort County should not have to pay if costs for widening SC 170 increase, officials say

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.comApril 18, 2014 

Vehicles drive by one of the construction sites where the road is being widened along S.C. 170 the afternoon of April 17, 2014, in Okatie.

DELAYNA EARLEY — Staff photo Buy Photo

A slight redesign of the S.C. 170 widening project could drive up its cost, but it is not clear if Beaufort County or the contractors doing the work will be on the hook for additional charges, according to county officials.

The S.C. Department of Transportation is requiring that the thickness of the asphalt applied to the road be increased to meet state standards, county engineering director Rob McFee said.

That extra inch of asphalt will cost an additional $732,000, according to county documents.

Now the county, contractor Cleland Site Prep and design firm Thomas and Hutton are negotiating to determine who will pay the extra costs, county attorney Josh Gruber said. If they can't agree, Cleland could be replaced as the project contractor, county administrator Gary Kubic told County Council on Monday.

The $15-million project will widen S.C. 170 to four lanes between S.C. 46 to U.S. 278. About $1.3 million of that budget is still available, according to county documents.

That would be enough to cover the cost of the extra asphalt and other needed adjustments, McFee said.

However, the project has been expected to come in under budget and the county shouldn't have to forfeit those savings, Gruber said.

A mix of federal, state and county money is paying for the project. The county's share comes from a 1 percent sales tax for transportation projects approved by voters in a 2006 referendum.

If the county saves money on the S.C. 170 widening project, it could direct those savings to help pay for other referendum projects, such as the Bluffton Parkway flyover or Boundary Street improvements, Gruber said.

It is not entirely clear how the design mix-up occurred, Gruber said.

Because S.C. 170 is a state-owned and maintained route, DOT had to approve the project's planning and design, and its construction must meet state standards, McFee said. Although the county does help oversee construction, final oversight rests with the state, he added.

The initial designs were approved in 2012, Gruber said. However, DOT now says the design doesn't comply with its standards, McFee said.

The DOT's decision that the asphalt is too thin is out of the county's purview and therefore should not be its responsibility, Gruber contended.

Attempts to reach representatives from Cleland Site Prep and DOT on Thursday and Friday were unsuccessful. A representative from Thomas and Hutton declined to comment.

In the end, any design disagreement is between Thomas and Hutton and DOT, Gruber said. Either the state can accept the road without the additional asphalt or Thomas and Hutton should be liable for the increased costs of the materials necessary to complete the project, he added.

"Ultimately, the county's positions is, 'Look, we didn't create this problem, and, because of that, we shouldn't be responsible for finding the solution to it,'" Gruber said.

County Council's Public Facilities Committee will discuss the cost increase at its meeting at 4 p.m. Monday at the conference room in Building 3 at 104 Industrial Village Road in Beaufort.

The project's completion date has been extended from May to August because of delays in getting a state environmental permit last year, McFee said.

The conflict over additional costs should not delay the project further, McFee and Gruber said.

Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.

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