Dorchester Road almost done, but most remain unhappy

Traffic weaves through the orange barrels Wednesday on Dorchester Road as construction continues well past its projected completion date in Summerville.

SUMMERVILLE -Time and again, motorists have watched the deadline for the Dorchester Road widening project slip by as they continue to drive a gauntlet of orange barrels, lane shifts and bumpy pavement.

Now, months after the first targeted completion date, drivers might finally see some new lanes and the end of the project could be in sight.

"Right now, we are looking at probably two months of hard work," said Donnie Dukes of Davis & Floyd, the project's engineer. He predicted the road will be finished by the end of July.

"It's not like we'll wait to the end of July before you get the benefit of the four-lane road," he said. "We'll open travel lanes before that."

Plans call for widening five miles of Dorchester Road between Trolley Road and U.S. Highway 17A, a stretch traveled by nearly 40,000 vehicles daily.

Two lanes going toward Summerville likely will open in about three weeks, Dukes said.

Some residents remain skeptical.

"We've been waiting for this for a very long time," said Daphne Thompson, who drives nearly the length of the project each day between her home in Waterside Landing and her job in North Charleston. "I'll believe it's finished when I go out there and all the orange barrels are gone and there are cars driving in four lanes."

County Councilman Jay Byars put it bluntly Tuesday in a post on his public Facebook page: "Our patience has run out on Dorchester Road."

The website for the Dorchester County Penny Sales Tax Transportation Authority acknowledges the problems with this statement: "Everyone involved in this project realizes the imposition and frustration the traveling public has endured thus far. Circumstances have conspired to drag out the project schedule; however, we are hopeful that significant progress will be evident in the near future as we bring this project closer to completion."

Doug Rock, owner of On the Rocks Spirits & Wine near the corner of Dorchester and Bacons Bridge roads, has had a front-row seat to the construction in the year and a half he has owned the store.

"I can sit here in the afternoon and watch the traffic," he said. "I thought it would be done a lot sooner than this, but it seems like they never hit a deadline."

He said the delays have hurt his business.

"A lot of people have said they didn't know we were here," he said of his store. "I think that's because of all the congestion and the changing of lanes. People are so focused on the road that they just really don't pay attention to what's here."

The work started in June 2011, but the $24 million project has been plagued by bad weather, relocating utility poles and faulty materials. It is now more than six months behind schedule, leaving traffic snarled on a main artery between Charleston and the rapidly developing area around the Oakbrook, Knightsville and Beech Hill communities.

"We are not pleased at all," Dukes said. "It is disappointing but it was a very difficult construction period."

The biggest culprit was weather, he said.

"We had a very wet winter and we also had a wet summer prior to that," he said. In the winter, the ground takes longer to dry, he said. "We got a lot of criticism saying, 'You're not doing anything when it's not raining,' but people don't realize, the rain has several days' impact."

Two ice storms added to the delay. "Every time we thought we were seeing the end of the tunnel, something got in the way," he said.

The project also was postponed while waiting for utility companies to relocate poles.

While those things might have been uncontrollable, an inferior base layer of material that was laid by contractor L&L Contractors between Bacons Bridge Road and Sawmill Branch Canal was not. When the road started crumbling, Davis & Floyd and the state Department of Transportation discovered that the gravel bed was not infused with the proper amount of cement.

"We determined that to be unacceptable work and made them dig it up and put the right amount of cement in and redo the material," Dukes said.

L&L Contractors and Davis & Floyd are haggling over which company should pay the $1 million in extra cost for the roadbed rework.

Byars and fellow Councilman David Chinnis are not pleased.

The two, both up for re-election this year, held a news conference at the construction site Monday to express their displeasure at the lack of progress. Dukes met with county council that night.

"I can assure you, we were heard loud and clear," Chinnis said. "The work started back up the next day."

That doesn't mean he's appeased.

"Personally, and as a councilman, I am not satisfied with the answers (from Davis & Floyd)," Chinnis said Thursday. "We can't control the weather, but ultimately, there were other issues. Had it not been for those other issues, I'd be OK, but the faulty paver base is a very strong concern of mine."

He is worried that other sections of the road might also be affected.

"I am concerned that road will fail in a short time," he said. "But I certainly don't want to do anything at this point would delay the project further. Sometimes when we stick our hands in things to try to do better, they get a reaction that actually backs things up."

But Dukes feels the end is in sight.

"We met with County Council (on May 5) and explained everything in detail," he said. "Everybody knows what the story is. Now, if we can keep good weather, we should stay right and get this thing done."

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.