Why’s road work on Bluemont taking so long?

By Ned Seaton

Q: Why is the project on Bluemont Avenue taking so long?

A: Because it’s a road project. Duh! They always seem to take forever, especially if they foul up your daily commute, right?

In this particular case, there are some contributing factors, according to Manhattan city engineer Rob Ott: First, it rained a good bit this summer. Second, the nature of the project meant that rain killed three weeks of work days, meaning the whole thing was at a standstill. And third, the way the deal works, the contractor can skip weekends, holidays and rain days without penalty.

The project we’re talking about adds a median to the middle of Bluemont Avenue, among other things. It’s intended to prevent left turns coming out of Aggieville onto westbound Bluemont, in order to reduce the number of car crashes there, Ott said.

It also will add a bike lane, a pedestrian crossing feature, and it will improve the stoplight system at the intersection of North Manhattan Avenue and Bluemont, which becomes Anderson Avenue right there.

(That’s one of the secret handshakes of Manhattan that you just have to know in order to hang with the cool kids. E-mail me for the rest of the insider’s guide.)

This is a $1.2 million project that city commissioners approved April 2. The federal government — which was still in business back in those days — pitched in with a safety grant to cover all but $338,000.

The reason the feds pitched in: The stretch of road was ranked as one of the highest crash sites in the state, Ott said.

The federal money was funneled through the Kansas Department of Transportation, which means that agency controls the contract, Ott said. The bid went to Emery Sapp & Sons of Kansas City, Mo., which is a substantial regional contractor, according to Ott.

KDOT gave the contractor 100 working days to finish the job. Assuming the contractor had been able to ram the job through from beginning to end, that would have meant the project could have been done by now.

But rain chewed up three weeks, among other things, Ott said. That means so far the contractor has only used 61 days, so there are roughly eight weeks of work left.

That would put the completion date near the end of November.

Part of the problem, Ott said, is the nature of the project: They can only shut down part of the road at a time, in order to let traffic get through and to accommodate businesses along the route.

When the rain made the soil too wet to work with, that shut everything down, because no work could get done on the side of the road that was open to traffic. “That was certainly a drawback,” Ott said.

They have now replaced some of the “subgrade” material — dirt and so forth — with a type that deals better with water, Ott said.

So, just to be clear: The contractor is not in any sort of violation, because the nature of the project and weather issues have contributed to the delays.

Here’s Ott’s view: “It’s not one of our faster projects. I would like to see it move faster. But we don’t have a contractor out of compliance, and they’re progressing.”

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