My email sent to firstname.lastname@example.org was rejected. This is the address that was listed for County Manager Scott Johnson on the county’s official website. Therefore I decided to share the letter publicly in hopes that he and other county leaders will read.
UPDATE: Kyle Titus, of the Engineering Services Division, responded to my email and has given me permission to share. His response is located below my email to Scott Johnson.
May 24, 2023
Good afternoon Mr. Johnson,
On the last day of school during early release, Flowing Wells Road is currently a disaster. Construction work is taking place right in front of Martinez Elementary School during early release. My wife sat for 35 minutes trying to pick up our son. The end of the school day was 12:10 p.m. today.
Clearly, this is yet another example—in a long line of many—of poor project planning with this never-ending road construction project. Mr. Titus sat at our dining table last August explaining the progress of the project, and at that time stated it should be complete by last November or by Christmas at the latest. While we appreciate him taking the time to update us on what was already a major frustration at that time, we have seen progress slowly limp toward what seems to be a moving finish line that will never be achieved. Each deadline we have been told has come and gone for a few years now.
Our family moved from Richmond County into Columbia County 4.5 years ago. We live on [road name redacted], and this project started about 2 weeks after we moved in. I am a graduate of Greenbrier High School and we have many family members residing in Columbia County. I am happy to call Columbia County home again, but this project makes our county government look incompetent. We realize there have been unexpected problems with the Flowing Wells project, including COVID and labor issues. However, I would like an honest and accurate assessment as to when this project will be 100% complete. In the meantime, we expect our government to make this right. How will that be done?
County leaders may not live in our part of Columbia County, and may not need to travel up and down Flowing Wells Road often. But for those of us who live in this part of the county, pay taxes, and wish to leave or enter our neighborhood without facing the increased risk of an accident or unnecessarily long delays, we expect answers.
I don’t wish this kind of project on any other citizens of our county. We realize other parts of the county have traffic needs, some of which are being addressed now. But this kind of project cannot and must not take place again anywhere in Columbia County. We are, or should be, better than this.
Mr. Rogers, thank you again for your email and I apologize for my haste response below.
As it pertains to your email, yes I recall meeting with you this past August as well as my previous correspondence with your wife in 2021 and 2022 (attached). I apologize your wife had to wait in traffic for 35 minutes today and I understand you are frustrated with this project. I can assure you that everyone involved with this project is beyond ready for this project to be completed, to include residents, traveling public, County Staff/Management/Commission, and the Contractor. Please note the following summary from the start of this project through today:
Essentially, this project has seen an unfortunate sequence of events:
The first being that this project was bid in two phases – Phase 1 Utility Phase and Phase 2 Road Construction Phase. This was done because early estimates projected this project to be over budget so staff looked at ways to bring the project back within budget, ultimately to save taxpayer dollars. The thought process here is that we would get construction-specific contractors, one for utility relocations and then one for the road construction, and avoid (or save) mark-up costs by a general contractor. The down side to this is that it necessitated a longer overall construction timeline because there were two advertisements, two biddings, two awards, and two construction mobilization schedules. Not a big deal under normal circumstances; however,…
The next challenge was that Phase 2 for Road Construction was bid in the midst of COVID. The County had an incomplete project and we had to keep moving. This though, created many unforeseen challenges as we did not fully understand the impacts COVID would have on the project. And while it may be easy to dismiss now because we all feel like COVID is behind us and things are back to normal, I would ask you put yourself in the contractors shoes –
· They bid a project in the middle of unknown circumstances because they were trying to keep their business and workforce alive
· Once awarded the project, they had extremely challenging times keeping their workforce constant on most projects, to include Flowing Wells, because this was still a brand new virus that no one (including their staff) was familiar with and many were not readily willing to go back to work
· Once a constant workforce began returning, they ran into severe supply chain issues that impacted the entire project – the largest being the availability of stormdrainage pipe. I remember at one time many, including me, could not readily find Clorox wipes or toilet paper, and the contractor was having difficulty finding drainage pipe. And then when the pipe did become available, every contractor in the business bought it up so supplies were crippling limited. I know this was an issue because the County too had difficulties finding storm drain pipe during this time. So much so that I personally approved a supplemental standard that allowed for alternate pipe materials to be utilized during this time on County projects. Still, even the alternate pipes were difficult to find. This may seem simple at the surface, but let me dive a little deeper here for you – If you cannot find pipe to install, you cannot backfill the roadway subgrade. If cannot backfill the roadway subgrade, you cannot install the stone base. If you cannot install the stone base, you cannot pave the road. If there is a traffic shift, you cannot shift the traffic to move to the next phase. Do note that pipe may have been the primary supply challenge but there were many and this is a simplified version of the myriad of issues this contractor faced with the supply chain due to COVID.
· In addition to COVID, per every road construction contract, we credit contractors for weather delays. If they cannot work due to weather, we can’t make them, nor do we want to. If you try to compact a roadway base while it is raining, you will never get proper compaction and the roadway will fail. If you try to pave while it is too cold outside, the pavement will crumble after a few months. In both situations, the danger to the workforce is increased substantially which is unacceptable in any case. There have been many weather delays associated with this project which have been credited to the contractor, and I am sure before the project is complete, they will be eligible for more.
All this to say, this is a complex project by itself and, in addition, it has been the recipient of a series of an unfortunate sequence of events. You are right. Columbia County is better than this, but we cannot rewind a global pandemic (that has had far more reaching impacts than many will truly ever see or understand) any more than we can hold back the tide. I can assure you that we, Columbia County, are doing absolutely everything in our power to facilitate this project as quickly as we can for you and all those affected by it. I am happy to elaborate here if needed.
Please note that I provide some form of update to County Management and/or Commissioners weekly on this project because they too understand fully the frustrations of those impacted. They are on me weekly to get this done “yesterday.” In addition I can assure you that the contractor, who has not yet once asked for a change order or price increase despite inflation costing them anywhere from 20-50% more from the time they bid the project, wants this project completed more than anyone.
If you are interested in discussing more, please let me know. I am happy to answer any questions and take as deep a dive as you’d like.
Ultimately, it is my professional opinion that the contractor is making solid progress now, despite the aforementioned circumstances. We are getting closer to the end each day. I sincerely ask for your patience once more as we all try to wrap this one up and get it behind us.
Please do not hesitate to reach out to me directly if you have any questions or would like to meet. Thank you for your time.
R. Kyle Titus, PE
Division Director | County Engineer
Engineering Services Division
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