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March 27, 2014

Hamilton commissioners unhappy with CR 135 project

Jasper — The $2.5 million repaving and bridge widening project of County Road 135 in Hamilton County has been the subject of much discussion at recent county commission meetings and the board isn’t happy with the latest developments which could cost the county an additional $606,000.

Dirt shoulders

At the March 4 meeting, Engineer Greg Bailey asked the board if the county road department could provide some extra dirt for the shoulders of the road. Bailey said the contractor, Anderson-Columbia, would handle the labor. The board agreed extra dirt was needed and that the road department could help bring in some loads of dirt from other areas in the county.

The discussion escalated at the March 18 meeting of the board when Commission Chair Josh Smith asked Bailey to explain how much dirt was needed. When Bailey said 176 loads, Commissioner Randy Ogburn was visibly shocked.

Smith said, mistakenly or not, he assumed from the previous meeting that several loads of dirt meant about 10-15 loads. Commissioner Buster Oxendine said he thought it meant about 30-40 loads.

When asked if the county was expected to haul the dirt to the site, Bailey said that was going to be his request. Oxendine said he didn’t know if the county even had that much dirt or if the road department had time to haul it.

Later in the meeting, Bailey explained that the dirt was not an item in the original bid. It was decided to get a quote from Anderson-Columbia for the dirt, in order to keep the county road department from getting involved in a bid project.

The bridge

The bridge widening was the biggest issue for the CR 135 project. Bailey explained on March 4, that the plan was to widen it to the outside. A metal curving with guardrail was to be removed and replaced with a DOT approved safety rail made of concrete with attached rail.

“On the outside where we’re widening it, we’re going to have a new structure because our widening it will support the new rail,” said Bailey. “On the inside we’ve got the existing structure and if he just puts the bridge railing on it as it is, it will reduce the load capacity of the bridge 25 percent. If he makes improvements to the beam and puts some metal plates on it, it will only reduce it 7 percent.”

Smith asked if it would involve extra costs to the project and Bailey said he didn’t know yet. Bailey explained that the 7 percent plan would improve the safety but reduce the carrying capacity of the structure. Semi-trucks with a load weight over 36 tons would not be approved for travel across the bridge.

Because there is so much semi traffic on CR 135, the board was against reducing the load capacity and asked Bailey to check with DOT to see if they could leave the existing inside rail as is. Bailey said he would ask, but said DOT might not fund it. He also explained that during negotiating on the project, in order to keep costs down, it was decided to only widen one side of the bridge. If widening of both sides had been agreed upon, the new railings and supports would not be an issue, nor would there have been any reduction in load limit.

At the March 18 meeting, Bailey said to do modifications to the beams on the bridge for the 7 percent load reduction option, it would cost about $16,500. The option to leave the existing inside railing as is, Bailey said, DOT would not sign off on it at all because it doesn’t meet current safety standards and would create a liability.

“That does not appear to be an option,” said Bailey.

Bailey said he checked on the cost of a new bridge replacement. One recently constructed in Baker County is about 4-5 feet longer than the CR 135 bridge and cost just under $1.5 million.

With a little over $800,000 budgeted for the bridge work in the bid, Bailey said it would cost the county an additional $606,000 to construct a new bridge.

“We don’t have a whole lot of options when it comes to that bridge,” said Bailey.

Bailey explained there was about $105,000 left on the project, which could cover the bridge modifications (with the reduced load capacity) and additional shoulder material costs.

The only other option, he said, is to try to seek additional funding to replace the entire bridge, although it might take until next year.

Oxendine questioned why the contractor quoted a price for the project if they had no plans for the bridge and didn’t know what was underneath it.

“They evaluated the bridge,” said Bailey. “The only difference is the reduction in the load rating. You can’t tell that until you actually get in there and do all the work. That’s what they’re tasked with doing, so they couldn’t know ahead of time.”

Oxendine disagreed and said the contractor should have known that the bridge needed to be shored up or have the load rating reduced when they submitted their quote to the county a year ago. He said had the county been told at that time, then they could have made different arrangements on the project.

Ogburn agreed and said if the contractor had no set of plans they shouldn’t have bid the project.

“I’m just aggravated with the total job,” said Ogburn. “I don’t want the bridge weight capacity lessened, just like I said last time, and I think that Anderson-Columbia ought to make it right.”

Smith suggested the county attorneys review the contract and advise the board what their options are to rectify the situation and the board agreed.

Other issues

Board members also had concerns about the location of some of the culverts that seemed to be too close to property line fences. Bailey explained that the right of way on the entire project was narrow and the pipes and culverts needed to be 18 feet from the travel lane. Oxendine stated that the concrete walls of the culverts seemed to be creating more of a hazard now than the way the road was before the project started. Bailey explained on average 85 percent of vehicles that run off a road can recover before they reach the concrete wall of the culvert.

A dogleg in the road was also broached by Smith, who believed it should have been straightened as part of the project.

Oxendine said he recalled having reservations about the project originally when only one bid came in from Anderson-Columbia, which limited their options.

Ogburn said he was also upset that Anderson-Columbia pulled off the paving job to go to another project when they only had one day of work left. He said he spoke to the supervisor and was told there were high penalties involved on the other job if they didn’t show up that day. Bailey said the crew would be returning by the end of the week to complete the repaving.

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