It used to take Allan Pharr five minutes to drive his son to Sycamore Creek Elementary School in northwest Raleigh. But for the last year, the trip has taken at least 30 minutes as crews have worked to widen a one-mile stretch of Leesville Road from two to four lanes.
The good news for Pharr and thousands of other drivers who have navigated orange barrels and slow-moving traffic on the road: Construction is set to wrap up this week.
Raleigh staff say they have received several complaints about the $5.6 million project, which began in early 2014 and was delayed several times. It was supposed to be done last summer, but the deadline was pushed to September. That deadline came and went, too.
Some residents were quick to express their anger over the delays and traffic hassles, but Pharr used humor to deal with the inconvenience. He designed T-shirts that say, “I survived the Leesville Road widening.” He’s been selling the shirts to neighbors and donating the money to the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina.
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“I want to be able to find the humor in it,” he said. “Hopefully it will give people a chuckle.”
The project is meant to alleviate traffic congestion for a growing number of vehicles in the northern stretch of Leesville Road, a major thoroughfare near Sycamore Creek Elementary, the St. Francis of Assisi church and school and the Harrington Grove neighborhood.
During construction, buses to Sycamore Creek didn’t experience major problems, said Wake County schools spokeswoman Lisa Luten. But she said carpool traffic sometimes backed up, blocking drivers who were trying to get past the school’s entrance.
City staff knew it would be a tough situation, said project manager Tim Sudano. Traffic was already a problem on Leesville Road, he said, but the addition of two lanes should help.
“It’s going to increase the capacity,” Sudano said. “The traffic jams are hopefully over.”
Raleigh hired DeVere Construction, a Michigan-based company with a local office, to complete the project, which also includes sidewalks, bike lanes and a median.
The city will fine DeVere $1,000 for each day the project went beyond its Sept. 8 completion deadline, Sudano said. The total fine will likely exceed $100,000.
DeVere has completed other projects for Raleigh, including the first phase of widening Falls of Neuse Road.
The company has also completed projects for the state Department of Transportation, including the recently opened Rolesville Bypass in Wake County and other road and bridge projects in western North Carolina.
DOT reprimanded DeVere earlier this year for taking too long to complete the Rolesville Bypass. It took just over four years to complete the five-mile road.
DOT officials told DeVere the company could not place a bid for any new state projects until the Rolesville Bypass was completed.
Sudano did not say if DeVere’s performance on the Leesville Road project would affect the company’s ability to bid on future projects for Raleigh.
DeVere did not return phone calls seeking comment about construction delays.