The mayor's office issued a letter on Wednesday acknowledging a negative impact on Benton businesses and concerns over a perceived lack of progress.
The letter reads as follows:
Last Friday, and again yesterday afternoon, I met with representatives from McGeorge Construction, our primary contractor on the lower Military Road project, our Project Manager with McClelland Engineering, who oversees the construction of the new road for the city, and members of city staff regarding the ongoing concerns the construction issues are having on local businesses and citizens who use lower Military Road. I emphasized to them the frustration many of the businesses have expressed to me and other members of the staff about the ongoing interruptions the road construction is having on their day to day operations. Also, the number of calls from citizens has increased in respect to the lack of progress being seen on the construction of the new roadbed, specifically between the Highway 5 overpass and Smithers Drive. Businesses located on Old Congo Road and the intersection of lower Military Road, (Burger King, Popeyes, used car lot, and the entrance to Western Sizzlin') where the stop and go light was removed and a three-way stop put in its place, in conjunction with the road bed that was torn up in front of those businesses, has had a profound negative impact on the businesses and the intersection has become a boiling point for drivers.
Lastly, a lengthy discussion took place regarding the intersection at the Congo overpass where it intersects lower Military Road at Lincoln Square. During this discussion, I pointed out the irritation and the overwhelming number of complaints we are receiving from citizens who have to navigate through that intersection, most specifically between 4:45 P.M. and 5:30 P.M. The main concern creating the chaos is the south section of the road between Congo Road and west to the cemetery across from Burger King where the lane has been removed now makes it difficult for cars to turn left and go over the Congo overpass because of the oncoming traffic. As a result, cars going east who are in line cannot maneuver around cars in front of them who are waiting to turn left over the overpass or to continue east and they must wait in line until the car in front of them finally turns to go over the overpass. This creates a significant back-up of traffic and increases the level of frustration with all drivers who are being impacted. Everyone in the meeting was requested to go to the Congo overpass at 4:45 Tuesday afternoon, and we all observed the traffic problems for 35 minutes. Further discussions on how to deal with this intersection are continuing.
During the meeting I asked McGeorge Construction Company representatives and McClelland Engineering personnel for some definitive dates as to when the following items would be complete. Their commitment was as follows:
1. Kyle, Watts, and Old Congo are currently scheduled to be paved by November 2nd, weather permitting.
2. The new south 2 lane roadbed from the Highway 5 overpass commencing at Browning St. to Northshore, or possibly to Smithers Drive, will be paved by November 16th, weather permitting.
3. They committed to pave the area in front of Burger King, Popeyes, etc. by November 2nd, weather permitting.
Alternatives are being reviewed for the problem at the Congo overpass where Lincoln intersects with lower Military and all parties were asked to prepare suggestion for discussion next week.
It has been pointed out to me by numerous citizens, as well as business owners, that on numerous days there has been very little construction activity on any portion of the project. For example, during the last week I have personally driven the construction area numerous times and at least two days last week and Monday this week there were no more than 5 or 6 construction workers present anywhere on the site. Yesterday there were approximately 30 workers up and down the site working on a variety of issues. I advised the McGeorge and McClelland representatives that there is a significant difference in the perception of what people see on days when hardly anything is happening versus the high level of activity they witnessed on Tuesday and it creates a feeling amongst the general public that this project is not receiving the kind of attention it requires in order for it to be done in an expeditious manner.
Another item that was discussed at length was the impact change orders are having on the project. It's very frustrating for everyone involved, including McGeorge Construction, McClelland Engineering, and the City of Benton that even the simplest design problem, such as the appropriate location of a traffic signal pole, can create a debate that can carry on for over three months, even though the cost to fix the problem will be approximately $8,000.00. The level of aggravation grows disproportionate to the problem because change orders must be processed through Metroplan and cleared by the AR Highway and Transportation Department, compounding the frustration for all of us who have to deal with actually building a road is the design firm, in this case Jacobs Engineering, who has already been paid their fees, leaving us with minimal leverage to get their attention.
At the end of the meeting I asked everyone, "Are you all still comfortable with saying this project will be complete by mid-August of 2013?" Everyone agreed that was still possible as long as there are no significant weather interruptions.
David J. Mattingly