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Will 15-501 EVER be finished?

Posted Tuesday, October 25, 2005

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DOT pledges that 15-501 widening will be completed by year's end

Pittsboro, NC - Construction crews started widening a section of Highway 15-501 from Pittsboro to Chapel Hill in February 2001. Turning the 12.7-mile stretch of two lanes into four lanes from the Highway 64 Bypass in Chatham County all the way to Highway 54 in Chapel Hill was supposed to be completed in 2003, but workers still are not finished with construction.

But now the N.C. Department of Transportation (DOT) pledges that the 15-501 widening project will be completed by the end of the year.

Marty Tillman, a DOT resident engineer, said some additional work, such as checking drainage structures and road signs, may need to be done next year, but that all the lanes are now expected to open by year's end.

Ron Van Cleef, another DOT engineer said delays were caused by "utility issues" and "plan revisions."

There were also legal troubles.

The work stopped and started as the original contrac-tor sued a subcontractor and the subcontractor counter-sued. Both then sued the DOT, which then sued both con-tractors.

Getting the job done is the plan as two new contrac-tors have been brought on to complete the project. The court hearings will begin after the construction is ex-pected to be completed.

DOT officials added that Jones Brothers Construction of Mount Juliet, Tennessee is liable for $500,000 in pen-alties for delaying the project. That figure could increase, depending on when the $43 million widening project is complete. A consultant for Jones Brothers said the company will contest the fines.

Tom Sullivan, a Jones Brothers consultant, blames delays on DOT requests for design changes, the discov-ery of contaminated soil along part of the road and, above all, utility company delays in moving lines to make way for construction. Sullivan said all the delays were out of Jones Brothers' control.

A sea of orange traffic cones

According to Marty Tillman, a resident engineer with the N.C. Department of Transportation, there are 3,238 barrels along the highway. DOT rents them from contrac-tor Jones Brothers Construction for $45 apiece, costing taxpayers $145,710. Jones Brothers owns most of the barrels and rents the rest from a construction equipment company for $7 each.

The number of barrels in the construction zone is determined by DOT safety standards. The barrels, which are spaced at least 50 feet apart, are supposed to alert drivers to lane shifts and protect construction workers from the traffic.

DOT counted 20,000 cars a day on U.S. 15-501 in northern Chatham County in 2003, the most recent year for which traffic counts are available. These numbers are sure to increase as county commissioners have approved several subdivisions for that part of the county.

Chatham county residents have heard completion “promises” before. Earlier this summer, Tillman had said the work likely would be finished by early November. Back in May the DOT officials said the project might be finished by late August. The contractor was even more optimistic, saying work might be finished by August 1.

It’s now October 2005.

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