Smithfield Herald

Crossings project moving along slowly

The Town of Smithfield is one step closer to starting the final phase of the long-delayed Smithfield Crossings road project.

The project – designed to ease traffic congestion on Industrial Park Drive – has been hobbled by the discovery of underground utility lines contractors didn’t know were there. During construction, crews have come across numerous phone and broadband lines. Early on, the town had trouble finding out who the lines belonged to. Since then, it’s been haggling with the utility companies over the shared cost of moving the lines.

This month, the town has been meeting with CenturyLink, which, it turns out, owns the broadband lines found long the route. Town planner Paul Embler said the town and phone company had come to an agreement. CenturyLink contractors will work alongside construction crews to move lines out of the way, then put them back when crews have put in the road’s storm drains.

“It’s more of a coordination between contractors than a relocation,” Embler said. “A relocation would have cost tens of thousands of dollars; we wanted to avoid that.”

As of Thursday afternoon, Embler was still in talks with CenturyLink, and the two sides hadn’t agreed on how much each side would pay to move the lines temporarily before putting them back.

Allowing CenturyLink to put the lines back will likely reduce the cost to the town, but that process will also take longer. Chris McKeel, project manager with contractor PLT Construction, said putting the lines back will add two to three days of construction for each intersection along Equity Drive.

“Any time we’re interrupted, it’ll slow down our work, but it shouldn’t be a tremendous impact,” McKeel said. “We’re just trying to get them out of the way.”

Although conflicts with CenturyLink are close to resolution, McKeel said other utility lines are in the way. Time Warner Cable has phone and cable TV lines along the route; the company has agreed to relocate them.

“They’ll move their facilities completely out of our way,” McKeel said. “We won’t have to work around or with them.”

PLT crews will also work with the town to lower some of the water lines in the area to make room for the construction, McKeel said.

The $6.1 million project was supposed to be finished by spring. But the tangle of privately-owned phone, cable and Internet lines made that impossible. Getting them moved took more time because their owners are mostly large corporations with sprawling bureaucracies.

“It’s when you get to the folks in Texas or Kansas that communications break down,” Embler said.

The finish date was then moved to November, but continued ongoing with the utility companies has pushed the project into next year. As a result, little work has been done this year.

The delay forced one contractor, hired to work on the Interstate 95 exit ramp, to back out of the project because of inactivity. That cost the town about $190,000.

Despite all the setbacks, Embler said he remains hopeful the road will open in 2014. “At this point, it’s hard to say,” he said. “Right now, we’re still shooting for early next year.”