Officials preach patience, attentiveness as Route 58 road work continues over next three years

Published 5:44 pm Friday, March 18, 2022

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Typical delays through the 3.1-mile work zone on U.S. Route 58 from the west end of the Suffolk Bypass through the industrial park area run about 15 minutes, but it has taken motorists more than double that to get through the same stretch in the past week.

It underscores the need to be alert through the area and resist the temptation to pass the time by watching videos on smartphones or other screens inside their cars.

“The one thing that causes me more concern more than anything else – certainly aggressive driving is an issue, speeding is an issue – is distracted driving,” said Public Works Director Robert Lewis, who lives in the corridor and drives through the work zone daily. “Just casual observations, I see way too many vehicle operators out there with their cell phones in their hands, texting, video screens on their dashboard watching videos as they drive down the road or cell phones up on the dash playing videos on the road.”

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The road work, which was 10 years in the making and began last June, is part of an $84 million project that is the largest in city history. The project is nearing the one-year mark and is expected to take another three years.

Once complete, the improvements will include an extra lane on each side of Route 58, intersection and traffic signal upgrades and safety improvements for cars getting on or off the road.

It will also include turn lanes, raised medians, curb and gutters, enhanced stormwater features and a path and sidewalk for pedestrians and cyclists.

Lewis said the project is about 45 days behind schedule but expects that better weather, improving market conditions and commodities becoming available over the coming months will help close the gap on the project timeline and will not have an impact on the overall schedule.

“A lot of that goes back to the market conditions that deal with the acquisition of materials, and certainly labor forces out there for the contractor,” Lewis said. “They, just like the rest of us, have struggled in getting the materials in, getting people to work, managing that amongst the post-COVID economic world that we live in. We’re not way out of whack.”

Project manager Mitch Conner said rough weather in January did not help, but with improved weather, “we’re seeing a lot more activity out there.”

“I wouldn’t say that we’re significantly behind at this point,” Conner said, “but we’re not quite where we want to be.”

The first phase of the project has involved relocating utilities, putting down temporary pavement on the north side of the road for two new westbound lanes of Route 58, which will allow for two lanes of traffic both east and westbound.

Conner said contractors are making good progress on installing stormwater infrastructure, “which is all the pipework that you see on the side of the road going underground.” Most of that, and the culvert extension work on the north side of Route 58, is complete, he said. That work on the south side of the road is expected to begin in the next 30 days.

“Once we get the pipework in the ground, the paving and the grading should go fairly quickly,” Conner said.

Lewis and Conner said a unique aspect of the project is the amount of pipes stockpiled on the side of the road, not necessarily for the current phase it is in, but the contractor is buying it as it is available so that work won’t be slowed by supply chain issues.

“The contractor has purchased enough material at this point that we don’t anticipate any impact to the work that’s going on right at this moment,” Conner said.

Lewis said the length of the project, in this case, is working to their advantage.

“This project is so big and it lasts over multiple years that we think that the ability to order stuff early and get it in time, get it stockpiled so that it’s there when you need it is actually, maybe, playing out to our advantage,” Lewis said, “rather than if this project were only three or four months long, we might be very challenged to get materials in that timeframe.”

In the second phase, expected to start sometime this summer, westbound traffic will shift to the temporary pavement and eastbound traffic will shift to the former westbound lanes. Contractors are expected to make permanent improvements to eastbound lanes during this phase.

Conner said they would start telling residents about two weeks ahead of the shift.

Once that is complete, traffic will then shift to the south side of the median and permanent improvements will be made to the westbound lanes. That’s when much of the curb and gutter work is expected to take place before traffic shifts back to outside lanes in the appropriate direction.

In the final phase, contractors will put in permanent median improvements.

Both Lewis and Conner say working through utilities on a project of this scope is a challenge, and even with as much surveying and engineering that’s done, there are still surprises found underground from previous projects.

And both stress that, with all the work still to be done, motorists still need to be cautious though the work zone.

“If people could just put those devices down and get through the (3.1) miles,” Lewis said, “I won’t tell them it’s OK, but we need their utmost attention during that construction zone to keep everybody safe.”