In the wake of the frustrated S.C. 170 expansion, delays are handicapping its on-going sister projects: the Bluffton Parkway flyover and Beaufort’s Boundary Street improvements.
The combination of those delays has some current and former Beaufort County leaders questioning whether the county can efficiently manage its biggest infrastructure projects.
But county administrators contend there is little they could have done to avoid the current delays and little they can do to avoid
future ones. And they dismiss the notion that their management of complex engineering projects has anything to do with the delays.
“We don’t build bridges and we don’t build roads. Contractors we hire do,” said county administrator Gary Kubic.
“If the bridge, for example, is not open as timely as everyone would like, it’s not great,” he continued. “But in the final analysis, is it going to last? Does it do what we wanted it do? That’s my ultimate responsibility.”
In the case of the flyover and Boundary Street, county leaders argue the issues behind the delays could not have been foreseen and won’t ultimately affect the quality of the final product.
The flyover project, originally anticipated to be completed this month, is expected to be finished next March while R.R. Dawson Bridge Co. crews finish paving the ramps to connect Bluffton Parkway to the bridges to Hilton Head Island.
And the long-delayed Boundary Street redevelopment project in Beaufort is finally set to break ground just after the New Year and is expected to take about two years to complete.
What caused the delays?
In the marsh outside greater Bluffton, R.R. Dawson crews found in 2013 they would have to extend almost two dozen of the pilings supporting the flyover ramps up to 18 and 19 feet deeper in order to put the bridges’ foundations on solid ground.
The changes added another $482,000 to the $36 million project. Engineers could not have known those depths until they were actually working under the soil there, county engineers have said. Coupled with rainy weather this year, the extensions are largely responsible for the flyover’s delays, they add.
And in Beaufort, unforeseen complications with the plans to bury utilities along the Boundary Street corridor and strict bid regulations repeatedly halted that project’s ability to move forward — ultimately driving up costs by about $6.1 million to almost $33.6 million total.
Although contractors cannot predict every complication a project might encounter, it’s up to them to plan for those variables, not the county, Kubic said.
When the county hires a contractor — such as Cleland Site Prep on the S.C. 170 widening project and R.R. Dawson for the flyover one — it cannot interject itself into the management of the project while it’s happening, Kubic argued. To do so could strip the county of its legal leverage against the contractor should something go wrong, he said.
“I’m not the kind of administrator that’s going to expose the county to some kind of liability in five years because I injected (engineering director) Rob McFee into telling a contractor how to lay asphalt or dig ditches. I won’t do that,” he said.
That mindset makes it a fallacy that the county has much power to fix a project once it is set in motion, deputy county administrator Josh Gruber said.
“There are only so many sticks and carrots I can use to keep a contractor moving,” he said.
Across the state, delays are typical of road improvements, Gruber added. Only 42 percent of state-managed roads projects where completed on time between May 2014 and May 2015, according to a S.C. Department of Transportation presentation. Only 19 percent of those projects during that time were completed within their original contract value.
To date, no two delays or mistakes have been the same, making each a unique “learning experience” that will improve future undertakings, Gruber and Kubic said.
“We want to certainly learn from the issues that we’ve had so that we don’t repeat them,” Gruber said. “Nobody wants to go through this headache. It doesn’t do anything for anybody. If we do things in the future, we’re not going to have these problems.”
- Work to finally complete SC 170 begins Monday, July 5, 2015
- Officials promise to finish SC 170 project this summer, despite county vs. Cleland fight, June 17, 2015
- County fires Cleland Site Prep from long-delayed SC 170 project, June 16, 2015
- Recent rains lead to flooding on newly widened SC 170, June 3, 2015
- SC 170 project limps past another deadline; June completion expected, April 24, 2015