Richland County’s plans to pave 21 dirt roads have to go back to the drawing board

After Richland County already paid to design the paving of 21 dirt roads, the county may now have to go back to the beginning.

The county is considering completely redesigning the work previously done for almost seven miles of unpaved roadway, years after the work was originally done.

The county did not have an estimate for how much money had been spent on the initial design work.

Design work done when the Dennis Corp. was managing the county’s dirt road program is not complete enough to now move forward on the projects, said David Beaty, who manages the three-company consortium that has overseen the county’s road construction program for five years.

The consortium does not include the Dennis Corp., which initially managed Richland County’s dirt road program from 2015 to 2017. The consortium — called the PDT — took over that responsibility in 2018.

Resolving the problem will now be an issue for Richland County, which beginning next month is taking over responsibility for all of the penny road construction program that voters approved in November 2012.

The 2012 referendum, which asked voters to approve a 1 percent sales tax to raise about $1 billion, included plans to spend $45 million to pave 223 miles of dirt roads. Seven years later, less than 10 miles of those roads have been paved.

Because of design flaws in the work, it would ultimately cost the county more money to move forward with the designs than to start again from scratch, said Beaty.

“The level of detail is not sufficient to adequately construct them in the field,” Beaty said.

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Design work on the projects could take up to nine months for each of the roads, said county transportation director Michael Niermeier. He said he couldn’t provide a cost estimate at this time, but Richland County will work to reduce costs by identifying roadways that can be finalized in-house. The county will rely on consultants for the other roads, but Niermeier says paving the roads will ultimately save on long-term maintenance costs.

”If we can’t use them as they are currently designed, we have no option” but to re-design the roads, said county council chairman Paul Livingston. “It may cost us time and money.”

“Constructibility issues” and “incomplete survey data” were some of the problems identified in the construction plans, along with utility conflicts, potential wetlands impacts, and unfinished right-of-way acquisition.

“There were some flaws initially in how they were done, and when we came back to them with a clearer lens, we decided it needed to be redone,” Niermeier said.

The roads affected are Ashbury Street, Country Place Lane, Dry Branch Way, Entzminger Road, Jackson Road, Ken Webber Road, Lacaya Road, Larger Street, Nathan Ridge Lane, Old Palmetto Circle, Ollie Dailey Road, Robert McKenzie Drive, Rockerfella Lane, Sandhill Estates Road, Sara Matthews Road, Sassafras Road, Smithcreek Road, Smith Myers Road, Spring Creek Road, Taylor Arch Road and Twin Ponds Road.

The Columbia-based Dennis Corp. did not reply to requests for comment on the program.

The dirt road construction project has faced other problems beyond the 21 designed roads. Of 82 other roads included in the initial group of paving projects, 62 had to be dropped because the county didn’t get the consent of enough homeowners along the road or were denied the necessary rights-of-way.

The program management team director told Richland County Council last week that less 10 miles of roadway have been completely paved since the program’s inception. Council members asked staff to make a more concerted effort to reach property owners to confirm their participation in the program.

The dirt road program is part of Richland County’s $1 billion roads improvement program, which has been plagued by rising costs on bigger road projects and has seen work on some projects halted while Richland County Council considers ways to cut back.

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Bristow Marchant is currently split between covering Richland County and the 2020 presidential race. He has more than 10 years’ experience covering South Carolina. He won the S.C. Press Association’s 2015 award for Best Series on a toxic Chester County landfill fire, and was part of The State’s award-winning 2016 election coverage.