OKTIBBEHA COUNTY — For Joseph and Priscilla Ammerman, inconvenience comes standard with living on Longview Road.
The road west of Starkville, most of which is only gravel surfaced, washes out when it rains and ditches jut out into near the middle of the road in some places. During the recent storms that blew through the area from Hurricane Ida, Longview Road was impassable.
The Ammermans addressed Oktibbeha County supervisors on Tuesday, asking why in the three years since the county has received State Aid money earmarked to pave the road, the job is still undone. It seems to them, they said, the project has been abandoned.
“We have winter coming up and we’re concerned that it will be completely impassable,” Joseph said. “With the way that they have left it and the condition that it’s in, with no good ditches, we’re afraid we’ll be trapped in our houses.”
While not abandoned, supervisors on Wednesday voted to again delay the project, this time to 2022, at County Engineer Clyde Pritchard’s recommendation.
The county received $1 million from the Mississippi Office of State Aid, and earmarked $800,000 of its own funds, for the paving project in 2018.
Phillips Construction was supposed to begin the project in spring 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic pushed it back. When the company planned to resume this summer, it ran into more problems when it encroached on a Starkville water line and communication line owned by AT&T.
Board attorney Rob Roberson said Pritchard had to negotiate easements for the project, but by the time of settlement, Phillips had already left the scene.
“If all of the easements had been cleared off the way they should have for Phillips to start and there hadn’t been any problems for utilities in the way, more than likely Phillips would have had a good summer to have gotten Longview Road in order,” Roberson said. “Because these easements were not cleaned off, it has set this thing back probably another year.”
Roberson said it would also be expensive for Phillips to easily bring all of its supplies and come back this year to work.
“It is expensive when a contractor moves in and out like that — you’ve got about $40,000 or $50,000 of cost to them due to their large machinery they have to move on and off jobs,” Roberson said.
Phillips tried to return two weeks ago, but due to weather conditions from Hurricane Ida, the company held off. Roberson said Phillips will evaluate the road’s condition next week and decide if the project can be completed by winter.
Road work must be completed in warm weather, Pritchard said, in order for the pavement to form properly. He said he believes the county should hold off on trying to execute this project until spring 2022 because not much time is left until winter comes.
“The truth of the matter is, we’re not going to get the road paved this summer,” Pritchard said.
Roberson said if he had known of the easement problems sooner, he would have attempted to resolve them early this year so construction could have begun.
“I wish that I had been aware of the issues with these utilities last year,” Roberson told The Dispatch. “If I had known this, I could have worked with the city. I could’ve worked with AT&T and have gotten this situated.”
Parts of Longview Road lie in Districts 1 and 4.
District 1 Supervisor John Montgomery expressed concern about the project’s delay and said many of his constituents need this road paved quickly. He said he believes winter will be a “mess” and does not want his constituents unable to travel Longview Road.
“People rely on us,” said Montgomery, directed toward Pritchard. “They rely on us. They rely on (District 4) Supervisor (Bricklee) Miller, and we rely on you. … Where are we going to be in a month? Where are we going to be in two months? Where are we going to be in January? It’s scaring me, quite honestly. We can’t just keep kicking this can down the road.”
Roberson said he is concerned about inflation. The $1.8 million estimate for the project was given in 2018. Because of the pandemic, construction prices have immensely risen, and he does not think they will be the same as they were three years ago, meaning the road work will cost much more than $1.8 million, and the county will have to find more money to fund the road.
“I’m very fearful that we’re going to run into costs of materials that have gone up considerably,” Roberson said.