ROSWELL, Ga. — Even under a new administration, city officials say it could be another year before the Oxbo Road realignment project is completed.
Reading a statement from Mayor Kurt Wilson about his first 100 days in office, Mayor Pro Tem Mike Palermo said he and the City Council plan to execute an “Oxbo action plan” by April 24, with project completion expected by Dec. 24, 2023.
Wilson did not say why he was absent from the City Council meeting Jan. 24, just that it was “out of an abundance of caution.” The action plan will reportedly include a fully developed timeline, design and cost for the project. However, the new date would put the project over two years past its original deadline. Construction was initially slated for completion in July 2021.
Before leaving office, former Mayor Lori Henry said she expected the project to be completed in the fall. The Oxbo project is designed to eliminate the staggered intersection at Ga. 9 and convert the portion of Oxbo Road near Mimosa Boulevard into a two-way street. It also calls for new turning lanes and a traffic signal on Ga. 9 and Oxbo Road, among other improvements.
The city broke ground on the project January 2020.
In 2017, Roswell paid the owners of Roswell Hardware Store $3 million for temporary ownership of their property for road alignment. The city was obligated to return the property in ready-to-build condition by Oct. 24, 2020, but failed to meet the deadline, resulting in a $2.5 million settlement with the owners.
Early in 2021, Henry ordered an investigation into the cost overruns and delays with the project. A report on that investigation, conducted by the law firm Jarrard & Davis, was made public in September 2021.
The report cited 15 years of mismanagement by Roswell city staff and the city attorney as reasons for the significant delays and millions of dollars in cash settlements for the Oxbo project. At last count, the investigation has cost the city $131,522.22, according to Community Relations Director Julie Brechbill.
Brechbill confirmed the city is actively searching for a new Director of Transportation after Muhammad Rauf, who had led the project for several years, was replaced on an interim basis by Environmental and Public Works Director Dan Skalsky last fall. The position was posted Dec. 23 and is set to close Feb. 13.
Palermo said the city will do anything to expedite construction, adding that the new mayor and City Council have already spent “an unprecedented amount of time” in the past few months meeting with residents to understand each other’s perspective on the strategy, planning, execution and vision for Roswell moving forward.
The new administration plans to create a citizens transportation commission to look over future transportation projects, a move residents have been calling for since word of the Oxbo project’s problems began to surface.
Jason Yowell, a frequent critic of the former mayor and council, said he was pleased the commission has become a priority. Yowell ran for mayor last fall.
“It is gratifying to have a mayor and council at long last that is going to be responsive to the citizens of Roswell and issue direction to staff rather than taking orders from staff and selling that agenda to the citizens,” Yowell said. “It’s a refreshing change of strategy and I am truly thankful.”
Another major goal of Wilson’s 100-day plan. The city posted the position Jan. 14. It previously launched an official search in July 2021.
The city currently has a public-private partnership with Roswell Economic Development and Tourism Inc, which oversees the economic development organization Roswell Inc and the destination marketing organization Visit Roswell. The organizations are led by Ken Davis, Steve Stroud and Andy Williams, respectively. Both Roswell Inc and Visit Roswell receive funding through the city.
When the City Council approved its agreement with the organizations last summer, it called for tighter financial monitoring. Palermo said hiring an economic development director will help to better align the city’s economic activity.
“The mayor and City Council will synchronize all economic activity in our city under one umbrella and bring all our boards, P3s, etc. under the same economic direction,” Palermo said.
Other actions include reactivating the 2015 Roswell River Master Plan, hiring a master planner, approving a master arts plan, creating a city master plan for the next 20 years, and bringing an outside vendor to execute a full financial review of the city, budgetary functions and department activities.
There will also be a bigger focus on the “people’s calendar,” through which city meetings will be scheduled on dates to accommodate residents. Lastly, the plan calls for a “best in class” police pay plan.
Palermo said city officials will go on a retreat next month along with city staff and consultants to see firsthand economic development and examples of successfully executed plans.
A City Council open forum is slated for 7 p.m. Jan. 31. The next City Council meeting will take place Feb. 14. Both events will be at City Hall.