COVINGTON — “It’s a big boo-boo!” That’s how Covington City Council member Susie Keck summed up the feelings of business owners and council members over the current state of the Pace Street LCI project being funded by the Georgia Department of Transportation the city.

The Pace Street LCI was born out of the U.S. Highway 278 LCI and has been on the books since 2006. It is a subproject that covers the four-tenth’s of a mile streetscape improvement project. The work includes transforming the current four lanes of traffic on Pace Street into two, and incorporating sidewalks on both sides to make it more pedestrian friendly from the busy core of Highway 278 down to the pedestrian core of downtown Covington. It also includes bicycle lanes, raised curbs, landscaped center medians, and pedestrian safe zones with pedestrian lighting and other street furnishings.

Tri Scapes Inc. was the low bidder with an initial bid of $2.8 million. After a review and project design change, the total cost was reduced by a change order to $2.375 million. Federal grants through GDOT will cover $1.9 million, which left $510,000 for the city to fund. The work started earlier this year with a timeline for completion of 18 months.

During Tuesday’s council meeting, the council approved a change order of $39,850.50 to modify concrete driveways that had been raised on Pace Street as part of the project. The driveways are being ripped out and will be lowered.

City Engineer Tres Thomas said the issue with the height of the driveways came about due to the road being raised. He said when GDOT reviewed the design plans, they requested a 2% increase in the cross slope to provide better drainage. Thomas said GDOT will usually add “or best fit” when they make such a request, but that “best fit” was left out and the road was raised, causing the driveways, curbing and sidewalks to also be raised.

But the raised driveways leading into businesses are causing many problems, and GDOT is allowing some of the driveways to be lowered, which is why the change order was needed.

Business owners in the area are still not happy. Judy Hooten said she and her husband have owned the property at 2123 Pace St. for more than 40 years. She said the construction is making it impossible for customers to see the car sales business now at that location.

“The problem with our property is it is a virtual business,” she said. “You need to see the product to be able to purchase it. With the rise in the property line, you’re not able to see anything. With the cars parked right in front, all you see is the roofs. You can’t purchase a car if you can’t see it. We were told that due to the height of the sidewalks, a fence would have to be installed so people wouldn’t fall down. That is going to impede our visibility even more.”

Barbara Morgan is general manager for Morgan Plaza, which was built in the mid-70s. She said the construction underway is nothing like what was presented to them in 2011.

“It is chaos,” she said. “It has created a dangerous ingress and egress,” she said. “We have 25 businesses, and some of them have been there for more than 30 years. They deserve some respect. We are impacting their ingress and egress and customers.”

Alicia Reynolds, owner of A Bouquet By Betty at 2163 Pace St., said her concern about the project is the safety of customers and workers.

“There are no posted speed limit signs,” she said. “The driveways are horrible. You have to jump 4 inches to get up into one. It is damaging cars, and I’ve had customers who say they’re afraid to drive in there. And the curb step offs are dangerous for anybody walking down those sidewalks.

“You’re going to spend $40,000 more on a mistake that should have never been made past the first day. Who’s going to be held accountable? We’ve talked to them on site more than once, and every one of us gets a different story. Yet they continue to tear out driveways and make it even worse. There was nothing wrong with the height of the driveways to start with.

“I hope a beautification project starts as an ugly duckling, because this sucker couldn’t get any uglier,” she concluded.

During council comments, Michael Whatley said he hoped the city and GDOT will take the concerns about the Pace Street corridor seriously.

“We’re taking a lot of criticism from a lot of businesses,” said Whatley. “I don’t know where things went wrong. I’m not pointing fingers at any one particular entity, but I’d like to see it corrected to the betterment of the people that have been there all these years, and don’t destroy any of the integrity of the businesses.”

Keck said she agrees with the business owners.

“To me it is obviously — I’m trying to think of a nice word — a big boo-boo, and my thought today is we’re approving $40,000 today to fix a big boo-boo,” she said. “If we need to stop right now and jack hammer the whole thing, we need to look at it before we have to start over. I’m going to challenge Tres to get with GDOT, get with these people, and let everybody know what the final outlook is going to be. Let’s do it right.”

Mayor Ronnie Johnston assured the business owners that speed limit signs will be posted and that the council will do whatever it takes to make sure the project ends up being productive for the community.

“They have to have some room to make some adjustments as they move forward,” said Johnston. “We will correct whatever we have to correct to move this project forward.”

Editor

I have been editor of the Rockdale Citizen since 1996 and editor of the Newton Citizen since it began publication in 2004. I am also currently executive editor of the Clayton News Daily, Henry Daily Herald and Jackson Progress-Argus.