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September 28, 2012

Slowed to a crawl: Jeffersonville businesses owners say Hamburg Pike work proving costly

JEFFERSONVILLE — Frustrations boiled over at Jeffersonville’s Redevelopment Commission meeting Wednesday as business owners said they are feeling the brunt of construction delays on road work being completed on Hamburg Pike.

The project to widen the road from about 22 feet to about 38 feet between Dutch Lane and Charlestown-New Albany Pike started back in December 2010 when utility relocation work began to clear the way for construction. Plans called for the completed road to consist of two 12-foot lanes, separated by a center turning lane, and for the construction to lessen some of the hills and improve sightlines for motorists. Turn lanes will also be installed near Research Drive, Production Boulevard, Fabricon Boulevard and Truckers Boulevard.

Initially, the road widening project was estimated to cost $5.96 million, of which 80 percent is federally funded through the Indiana Department of Transportation. Jeffersonville is responsible for 20 percent, or $1.19 million of the project’s cost.

Clarksville-based Gohmann Asphalt and Construction Inc. is the contractor for the project and had a planned completion date slated for Nov. 9.

However, the project has been delayed, largely due to complications in relocating utilities on the road, according to Gary Mouser, regional manager with Gohmann Asphalt, and Dennis Dixon, project manager with Gohmann Asphalt, who attended Wednesday’s meeting. Due to the delays, the construction company attended the redevelopment commission meeting to ask for an extension of time, pushing the project’s estimated completion date to July 2.

But area business owners said the delay is already costing them dearly.

“If I have to go until July 2nd, I’m broke,” said Jerry Bott, owner of Qik-Lube and Pike’s Shopping Center, at the corner of Hamburg Pike and Charlestown-New Albany Pike.

He said since construction began, he has seen a 30 percent drop in his business.

Just south of the intersection, on Hamburg Pike, Rivertowne Liquors owners Chris Howard and his wife Leah Howard said the construction has substantially changed the outlook of their business.

Before the construction Chris Howard said his business was posting 20 percent growth annually. But since the road has been under construction the business has been hit with a 20 percent decrease in profits.

“I know what is going to happen to us,” said Leah Howard. “I lost $50,000 last year,” she said with tears welling in her eyes.

“When the ... public is having their resources hurt like that, I understand emotions run high,” Mouser said after the meeting. “We started out on this job, we had a lot of problems with utilities. There’s a lot of substructure work done that they don’t realize. [We’re] going to try and get a big section finished this year. We sympathize with the inconveniences, the loss of revenue for the public there, but I think we’re going to move through it and try and get done as quick as we can.”

But it wasn’t the delays that the construction company encountered that perturbed the area business owners as much as it has been the lack of activity they’ve witnessed on the project.

Chris Howard said there have been only eight people a day, for two years, working on the road.

“They’re not doing anything, but destroying our businesses,” he said.

Leah Howard added that she watched workers remove dirt and replace it, at the same spot, more than 15 times when checking for utilities.

And the complaints weren’t limited to the business owners in the area.

Redevelopment Commissioner James Lake, who lives off of Hamburg Pike, said the claims made by the business owners were not exaggerations, noting that Gohmann poured the same curb 12 different times.

“This project has been trying,” he said. “There just hasn’t been anybody working on the road. I don’t see how the six people working on that road could possibly have gotten it done this year. Based on where you are today, I can’t see how you’re possibly going to get it done in another year.”

Mouser said Gohmann is still encountering utility problems and that more workers were not on-site because there is nothing productive for them to do until the utility issues are resolved.

“You can’t just put people out there to have people out there,” he said.

City Engineer Andy Crouch explained the time extension was also due to requests for additional scope of work added to the Gohmann contract. The additional request for time will add additional costs for inspection, expected to cost the city about $336,000.

Crouch said the city had already paid its 20 percent match for the project and INDOT is funding the construction work, but Jeffersonville still has to pay an inspector to check the work being completed.

Questions raised by Redevelopment Director Rob Waiz, relating to the inspection costs, included whether or not Gohmann plans to work through the winter.

Mouser said it would depend upon the weather.

“They pulled off of it last winter and it was the mildest winter we had,” Chris Howard said interjecting. “And we had a drought this year,” he said referring to the summer months. “They should be ahead.”

With the request of additional time from Gohmann, the area business owners offered their own requests.

“Minimally, what we ask you to do [is] don’t allow them out of their contract that they agreed to,” Chris Howard said. “If there are penalties in place, make them pay it. Do not give them more money to do the work they should have already done. They should pay the penalty for not doing what they said they would.”

There are no bonus clauses for early completion in the contract with Gohmann Asphalt and a penalty-per-day of $2,000 is set to be imposed if they go beyond the Nov. 9 completion date.

Lake, while he admitted that the construction efforts have been ramped up during the last few weeks, said that many workers should have been on the road a year ago. He added that he believes Gohmann should assume the additional inspection costs after Nov. 9 and also submit a schedule for the additional time with manpower projections to the redevelopment commission.

“My gut feeling is this project has not been a priority,” he said.

Crouch said meetings are planned between the city, Gohmann and INDOT. Another update is expected at the redevelopment commission’s next meeting, which will be held at 6 p.m. Oct. 25.

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