ROSWELL, Ga. — While the city investigates how Roswell’s Oxbo Road realignment project fell behind schedule, Transportation Director Muhammad Rauf says it may be another 12 months before the work is completed.
Meanwhile, Roswell has paid $71,507.32 to date for an independent investigation into the reasons for the delays.
The project is over a year past its initial completion deadline, and in February, delays forced the city into a $2.5 million settlement agreement with one of the landowners. But despite several setbacks, Rauf said in an email Aug. 16 progress is being made.
“There has been some significant and very visible activity at [the] site by the utility companies and also by our project contractor who has done extensive earthwork in the past few months,” Rauf said. “Also, a few months ago the City Council resolved the last property acquisition issue that was causing the hold-up.”
The goal of the project is to eliminate the staggered intersection at Ga. 9 and convert the portion of Oxbo Road near Mimosa Boulevard into a two-way street. It is also expected to provide new turning lanes on Ga. 9 and Oxbo Road along with a new traffic signal, helping solve a host of safety and mobility problems.
Rauf said police logged 169 crashes and 46 injuries at the Ga. 9 and Oxbo Road intersection from 2016 to 2020. So far this year, two crashes and one injury have been reported. The intersection is considered one of Roswell’s top five high-crash intersections.
Georgia Power and other utility companies are currently finishing up utility relocation on Oxbo Road. The city’s contractor, E.R. Snell, has brought in fill and begun grading for the upgrades to the intersection. The project is funded by the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.
Probe into delays continues
In 2017, Roswell purchased 0.36 acres of land containing right-of-way for the project for $3 million. The property belonged to the White family who owned a hardware store at 685 Atlanta Street. Under terms of the transaction, the city would provide the property owners a pad-ready site to relocate their business on or before Oct. 25, 2020.
But the city failed to meet the deadline, citing delays caused by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The settlement subsequently discharged the city from all damages and claims. Now, Rauf said staff is working on a construction change order with the city’s project contractor.
“Once that is approved by the City Council, hopefully in the next month or two, the contractor will have the green light to continue with major construction activities at [the] site,” Rauf said.
After the Herald inquired about the status of the investigation Aug. 17, Mayor Lori Henry posted a statement on Facebook where she confirmed the investigation was in its final stages. Few details about the investigation have been shared with residents since it launched in February.
Jarrard & Davis, a law firm specializing in local government, is leading the investigation. Henry said they have been combing through thousands of documents dating back to 2006 when the city began discussing the project. They include emails, meeting minutes, contracts and agreements, personnel files and more.
“It is a very comprehensive and thorough investigation, and although we do not have an exact completion date of the investigation, I am looking forward to receiving the final report and sharing it with you,” Henry said.
Kathy Baker, executive assistant to the mayor, also said the city did not require Jarrard & Davis to create interim reports, so they do not exist and cannot be released.
Councilman Matt Tyser, the council’s liaison to the Roswell Transportation Department, has made it a point to drive by projects “frequently” to check on them.
Liaisons are appointed by the mayor to keep tabs on city operations, but they are prohibited from running or instructing department heads who take their direction from the mayor or city administrator.
Tyser said he meets with Rauf two to three times a month to review any items or requests he plans to bring forth to the council as well as issues from citizens.
“Those get shared with the other council members, and, as with the TSPOLST 2 projects, try to gain consensus on what we all think and what we should present to the public for input to final decisions,” Tyser said. “In the case here, my questions [for Rauf] are about timing, any delays or any funding needs.”
In May, the City Council agreed to purchase additional parcels and acquire temporary easements on other property to complete the Oxbo realignment project – the final land transactions that had been delaying the project, Rauf said.
Costs included paying property owner Leslie Reed $299,000 for portions of land and a temporary easement at Maple and Atlanta streets. The city agreed to pay Reed an additional $75,000 to remove three residential structures on those streets.
Rauf did not disclose whether the design and construction costs for the project have gone up recently and, if so, by how much. However, since the project began, city records show its overall cost has risen from $9 million to at least $13.9 million, including the settlement amount.
Rauf also declined to say when the city will be done working on Reed’s property so the appropriate portions can be returned to her and what the next major construction activities are once the contractor receives the green light to move forward.
“All that is still a work in progress,” Rauf said.
A committee discussion about the Oxbo realignment project is expected to take place at either the Sept. 14 or Sept. 29 meeting at City Hall.