Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Oconee County, Athens-Clarke County Investigating Cracks In New Roadway To Caterpillar Plant

Oconee County and Athens-Clarke County officials are trying to figure out what to do about large cracks that have appeared in Orkin Drive, the major entranceway to the new Caterpillar plant near Bogart.

The roadway problems have occurred at a particularly inopportune time, as Caterpillar is planning a Grand Opening Celebration of its facility for the morning of Oct. 31.

Insert Highlights Breaks In Roadway

The cracks in both of the eastbound lanes of Orkin Drive are clearly visible, as is the buckling and sinking sidewalk. The problems are just a short distance from where the new road intersects with U.S. 78.

The two governments accepted responsibility for Orkin Drive and Dozer Drive, the two roadways leading into the Caterpillar facility, only in August.

Oconee County Administrative Officer Jeff Benko told me he learned about the problem with the roadway only about two weeks ago and has been spending the time since trying to figure out the cause and the potential liability.

”Failing” But Not Dangerous

Benko described the problem with Orkin Drive as a “road failure” though he said that was a layman’s, rather than an engineering, description. He said the roadway is not dangerous to the public at present.

Dozer Drive runs from the Atlanta Highway to a cul-de-sac south of the Caterpillar facility. Orkin Drive runs from U.S. 78 to Dozer Drive.

At the Oconee County Board of Commissioners meeting on Aug. 27, County Attorney Daniel Haygood said “all standards have been met” for Dozer Drive, which is in both Oconee County and in Athens-Clarke County.

Orkin Drive lies entirely in Athens-Clarke County, and Haygood made no mention of it at the meeting.

Oconee County Commissioners accepted the right-of-way for Dozer Drive at their meeting on Sept. 3.

The Mayor and Commission of the unified government of Athens-Clarke County acknowledged notification from Transportation and Public Works Director David Clark on Aug. 6 that the right-of-way for both streets had been accepted.

Engineering Contract

Benko said Williams and Associates, 2470 Daniells Bridge Road in Oconee County, is “the engineer of record” for the Caterpillar project.

According to the company’s web site, it had responsibility for: “Utility and infrastructure design, storm water management and hydrology, grading, erosion control, NPDES permitting, state waters assessments, traffic studies, traffic signal design, DOT design and permitting, roadway and intersection design, due diligence, local, state and federal permitting, land surveying.”

NPDES stands for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, while DOT stands for Department of Transportation.

Public Works To Benko

I called Emil Beshara, director of Public Works, on Monday and asked him about the cracks in the pavement and buckling sidewalk I had seen on Sunday. (The picture above is from Sunday. Click on it to enlarge it and see the insert more clearly.)

Beshara said there is “some problem underneath” the roadway but directed me to Benko for further information.

Benko told me in a telephone conversation later in the day on Monday that the public works directors of the two governments “are researching right now to see if they can determine the root cause of the failure.”

Once that is determined, Benko said, he will talk with County Attorney Haygood about “what is the next step.”

Split Costs

Even though Orkin Drive is in Athens-Clarke, Oconee County is responsible for covering half of the costs of the repair under the agreement the two counties signed for expenses for the project, Benko and Beshara said.

The Industrial Development Authorities of the two governments own the land on which the roadways and Caterpillar facility sit.

Benko said, at this point, he doesn’t know who was the contractor for the actual construction of the roadways.

Contractors usually do borings to learn the nature of the soil before a roadway is put into place, Benko said. This analysis helps determine the proper design of the roadway.

The counties are now “analyzing the site to see how far down the problem is,” according to Benko.

Grand Opening Set

Caterpillar has scheduled its grand opening and ribbon cutting celebration for from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Oct. 31.

The event will include a tour of the facility and lunch.

At present the problems with Orkin Drive could be overlooked by those attending. On Sunday, both lanes were open to traffic.

“It needs to be corrected before it gets worse,” Benko said. “It is not a safety issue right now.”

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