Leaders in Matthews and Mint Hill say they are getting the run-around about the roundabout the N.C. Department of Transportation has planned at the intersection of Matthews-Mint Hill and Idlewild roads.
The project has been delayed one year and will now be delayed again.
Both towns signed an agreement with the state in 2013 agreeing to each pay 10 percent of the cost of the project. At that time, the estimated cost of the roundabout was $1.6 million, meaning state and federal funds would cover about $1.3 million with the towns kicking in $162,500 each. At the request of N.C. DOT, Matthews and Mint Hill have each paid the state $81,250.
Construction was scheduled to begin last summer as soon as school was out because the intersection would be closed during construction. It was to be completed and operational before school started last fall. Timing was crucial because buses from Bain Elementary School, Mint Hill Middle School and Butler High School as well as traffic from Queens Grant Elementary, Middle and High schools regularly travel through the intersection and there are no clear detours around it.
In spring of 2015, right-of-way acquisition and other issues prompted N.C. DOT to delay construction for a year, to summer 2016. Now construction has been bumped to summer 2017.
N.C. DOT spokesperson, Jordan-Ashley Baker, says right-of-way issues have just recently been resolved, but that’s only the first step in construction preparation. She says utilities must be relocated, a process that could take months, and then the project must be advertised for three weeks. Tacking on an additional two weeks for bonds and insurance documents means construction wouldn’t begin until fall. With six weeks of active construction expected, the project could not be completed before the opening of the new school year.
Matthews Mayor Jim Taylor says the new delay is inexcusable.
“They were supposed to build it last year and ran into delays so they kept saying it would start this year. They never communicated to us that they were running into right-of-way issues. Part of the issue was with the Circle K. The town had already required that business to set aside right-of-way for the project as part of their conditional use approval for remodeling the store several years ago, but the state never asked us about it,” said Taylor.
“Now that all this is nailed down, N.C. DOT says they have to move utilities. Why did they not do this before? And now they are saying it will not start until next summer. To me, this is unacceptable.”
It’s possible the roundabout could have been constructed during the school year, but at a recent meeting of staff from N.C. DOT, Matthews and Mint Hill, the consensus was to delay construction.
Warren Cooksey, N.C. DOT director of Outreach and Community Affairs, says the new construction timetable was a collaborative effort.
“From the time the project was conceived we knew there would be an impact on school traffic. Doing it during the school year was just not something that people wanted to live with. We will get all utility work out of the way before next summer so that the contractor will have a relatively uncomplicated project,” said Cooksey.
Taylor says the project cost is also concerning to him. Though he hasn’t seen the latest projections, he is anticipating that project cost will rise as material and labor costs will keep increasing. He plans to talk with N.C. DOT about guaranteeing that the towns won’t have to pay any more than the original agreed upon amount since they had no responsibility for the delay.
Cooksey says N.C. DOT won’t know what the bill will be until the contract is let next spring, but he says they have already saved a considerable amount on right-of-way purchase that should help the project’s bottom line.
Taylor says next time N.C. DOT asks for help, his town will be more cautious.
“I don’t think it’s in the town’s best interest to enter into a contract with N.C. DOT without limiting our exposure. They can delay and delay and delay and there doesn’t seem to be any accountability. But at the end of the day, they can do whatever they want. It’s their road,” said Taylor.
Melinda Johnston is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.