Roadwork delays distress City Council
By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector
Tuesday, September 10, 2019
Greenville City Council member urged state transportation officials to find a way to move up improvements to Dickinson Avenue that are being delayed due to funding shortfalls caused by a court ruling and road repairs related to storm damage.
Representatives from the state Department of Transportation reviewed eight projects that are being delayed anywhere from two to four years and discussed why the shortfall occurred.
"I wish we were here with better news, but we're not," said Preston Hunter, Division 2 division engineer with the N.C. Department of Transportation.
Several years ago the transportation board moved up a number of road expansion projects, such as the widening of Evans Street/Old Tar Road, because it had $2 billion in surplus funding. Hunter said the goal was to spent about $1.5 billion to get the projects underway.
Timelines were set before engineering studies and other assessments were done, he said. A number of projects grew in cost because of higher-than-expected right-of-way expenditures and construction costs.
Then hurricanes, mudslides, ice storms and other natural disasters left the state with unexpected repair bills. Finally, a court ordered the state to pay property owners for losses they incurred when they were prevented from developing their property because it was in the right-of-way for future highway projects.
Hunter said the state transportation department tries to keep $282 million on hand at all times but these expenses are stretching its ability to do so. Hunter called the $282 million the transportation department's spending "floor."
"We can't even top our fuel tanks off at our main fueling station because of the floor," he said. "We are struggling every day to stay above the floor."
It's believed that the financial struggle should ease in early 2020 when additional revenues start coming in, he said.
Roadway improvements to Dickinson Avenue from Memorial Drive to Reade Circle, which were scheduled to begin in the current fiscal year have been pushed back to fiscal year 2022.
"Have you ridden on this road?" Councilman Will Litchfield asked.
"To me, this is one of the biggest priorities we have," Mayor P.J. Connelly added.
It was noted the city has a stormwater improvement project it was planning to do in conjunction with the road repairs. The city's plans to improve sidewalks along the street also are tied to the project.
The road, at the very least, needs resurfacing, Hunter said. Local engineers are talking to state officials to see if a temporary fix can be funded.
Hunter said right-of-way acquisition and utility realignment will go ahead on the Evans Street/Old Tar Road widening project but construction won't begin until fiscal year 2024.
Right-of-way acquisition is nearly complete on the Allen Road widening project but construction also is delayed until fiscal year 2024 as are the two-segments of the Fire Tower/Portertown Roads widening project.
Right-of-way acquisition on the 14th Street widening project still is scheduled for fiscal year 2020; construction is delayed until 2024.
Plans to update the signal system in Greenville will be pushed to 2023. Widening N.C. 43 South between Fire Tower Road and Worthington Road has been delayed until 2024.
"Is there any funding that's tied into the budget they are trying to pass now," Connelly asked.
Hunter said the state likely will receive reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for repair work related to Hurricane Florence and other natural disasters. However, it typically takes three to four years for the funding to be released to the state.
Councilman Rick Smiley asked if pedestrian safety projects, including one that will allow travelers along the greenway to cross 10th Street, are being delayed. Hunter said it will probably be approved by the money won't be available until next year.
Jones named interim city clerk
Deputy Clerk Polly Jones was appointed interim city clerk with an unanimous vote. She also was sworn in, accompanied by her four sisters and a niece.
"I love Greenville. It's an honor to be appointed the interim city clerk, even if it is for a few months, because I'm sure they are going to try and fill it before I retire," Jones said.
Jones has worked for the city for nearly 25 years and has been planning to retire in early 2020. Prior to joining Greenville city government, Jones worked with the city of Englewood, N.J., for 19 years.
"I enjoy helping citizens. It's a good field to be in," said Jones, who grew up in Winterville. "I was always taught by the people in New Jersey to give back to the community."