Editorial: Public funds wasted in project missteps

Construction cones line S.C. 170 on Thursday, July 2, 2015 in Bluffton.
Construction cones line S.C. 170 on Thursday, July 2, 2015 in Bluffton. Staff photo

Just two things are clear about the S.C. 170 widening project that finished more than a year later than anticipated and cost almost $1.7 million more than estimated.

First, there is plenty of blame to go around. Beaufort County, contractors Cleland Site Prep and Thomas and Hutton, and the S.C. Department of Transportation all managed to mess up some aspect of the project.

Secondly, the public is the loser. All of the oversights and missteps meant additional public dollars had to be shelled out to get the project back on track.

Problems started when a subcontractor, working for Thomas and Hutton, failed to design the new road to meet state standards. Instead, it was designed to county standards.

While Thomas and Hutton must take the blame for the original error, county and state officials also failed to realize the error for months. Ultimately, the project had to be redesigned while road work was already underway.

From there, other problems started piling up such as traffic along S.C. 170 during the morning rush hour. And a finger-pointing game between the project's players got underway that is so convoluted that we doubt we'll ever be able to tease out who is truly responsible for which problem.

We'll likely never be able to say for sure, for example, whether Cleland Site Prep had legitimate reasons to be delayed in conducting certain aspects of the work or whether the county is the one with the legitimate claim, contending that Cleland was sitting on its hands.

And it's an equally murky picture on whether drivers should have been allowed to travel on the initial layer of asphalt for as long as they did. All that can be said with any certainty is the traffic caused potholes and led to additional repairs -- paid for with the public's money.

And we're not yet ready to simply shrug and move on because two other major projects have also hit delays.

The $38 million Bluffton Parkway flyover at U.S. 278 near the bridges to Hilton Head Island is several months behind schedule. It was to be completed this month.

And construction on the Boundary Street project in Beaufort is supposedly about to begin, years after it was to get underway. That job will be front-and-center on one of Beaufort's main arteries and it must be done right and not drag along behind schedule.

Each of the projects has its own set of circumstances, making it hard to learn from experience. But we know from these jobs and others over the years that constant vigilance by the local or state governments does not require micromanaging contractors.

We know that the public will need to be constantly informed during the work on Boundary Street.

Speed bumps are expected. Train wrecks are not.

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