No date in sight for restarting Independence Boulevard construction

Construction is on hold on the overpass at Idlewild Road as the state awaits replacemenet of the project’s general contractor.
Construction is on hold on the overpass at Idlewild Road as the state awaits replacemenet of the project’s general contractor. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Even on sunny days, construction equipment sits idly on Independence Boulevard as a reminder that the general contractor and work crews abandoned the freeway conversion project in late January.

A date for restarting work on the $100-million-plus, 1.6-mile road project in east Charlotte will not be set until the defaulted contractor’s bonding company, Liberty Mutual, has chosen a replacement firm, according to N.C. DOT spokeswoman Jordan-Ashley Baker.

“The Department continues to work with the bonding company to ensure the turnaround is as quick as possible,” Baker wrote in an email.

Lane Construction has been hired as an interim contractor. The Connecticut-based company will be responsible for safety at the site and erosion control until the new contractor steps in, Baker said.

Contractors are required to schedule and conduct construction activities in a way that minimizes soil erosion, according to DeVere’s contract. A plan for sediment control is also required.

Before replacing a general contractor, a bonding company is likely to hire consultants to evaluate the remaining work and to request completion proposals from interested contractors, Baker said.

The bonding company must also present a plan for N.C. DOT’s approval. That plan would include selecting from a list of prequalified contractors, Baker said.

Lane Construction may or may not be considered for the general contractor’s job, but the company’s hiring was a reassuring sign for Kathy Hill, chairwoman of Monroe Road Advocates, a group of about a dozen residents and business owners.

“I’m optimistic that the state has the resources to continue the work and to make it happen in an effective and positive way,” Hill said.

When Michigan-based DeVere Construction Co. Inc. walked away from the job in January, about 67 percent of the work for its nearly $52 million contract had been completed, Baker estimates. The construction zone is between Albemarle Road and Wallace Lane.

DeVere and N.C. DOT reached an impasse over pay and other terms of their contract, the general contractor and the N.C. DOT said. DeVere, which has a Raleigh office, also stopped work the same week on three other state projects.

DeVere President Richard Crittenden explained that his company had “demobilized its forces from a number of NCDOT Projects pending resolution of sizeable claims and the release of substantial contract balances currently withheld by the North Carolina Department of Transportation.”

Crittenden declined to say how much DeVere contends it is owed. He said the matter would likely end up in court.

N.C. DOT found DeVere to be in default when work did not resume by a Feb. 8 deadline. Seventeen companies were approved as subcontractors for the job.

A breach of contract allows the state to invoke a performance bond and require the bonding company to complete the project at no additional cost, Baker said.

The project is still scheduled to be completed in October, Baker said. Finishes such as landscaping and tree replacement work is scheduled to be completed by April 2017.

DeVere started construction in April 2013 to widen this stretch of Independence Boulevard. The freeway conversion between uptown and Interstate 485 has been a slow project, now more than 25 years old.

Converting Independence is intended to provide relief from present and future congestion and improve efficiency.

More than 70,000 vehicles per day travel through the area. Traffic volumes are expected to range from 77,200 to 91,000 vehicles a day by 2030.

Karen Sullivan: 704-358-5532, @Sullivan_kms