Route 50E bike path extension

Work has resumed on a bike path project east of Athens, but the county is exploring whether the design can be changed to make the path less susceptible to flooding.

Note: This story appears in the Thursday, April 18 newspaper on Page A1.

On Monday, the Athens County Commissioners agreed to proceed as planned with a stretch of bikeway that is currently being built east of Athens, but the Ohio Department of Transportation is disputing who is at fault for some initial design flaws.

The project, which is to build a paved extension of the bike path eastward from Athens to County Road 24A (South Canaan), has been making slow progress and there have been several delays. The bike path was supposed to be finished by Sept. 30, 2018, but received a winter shut down in December and work continued earlier this year.

The new completion date, as previously reported, is July 31.

Funding for the project is primarily coming via ODOT, and the department is also managing the project.

The design firm for the project, Triad Engineering Inc., was hired by the county commissioners. According to County Planner Jessie Powers, ODOT approved the plans from the designer. Concerns were raised by the commissioners last year about flooding on the bikeway, and portions of the trail are below the five-year flood elevation. The commissioners worried about sediment on the path and possible maintenance costs associated with clearing the debris each time it floods.

As previously reported by The Messenger, the commissioners met with Lee McCoy of Triad Engineering a few weeks ago. The goal was to see what could be done to lessen flooding of the bike path when it is finished.

At Monday’s meeting, the commissioners were informed by Powers that raising two portions of the trail will affect the surrounding wetland. If the commissioners decide to elevate those portions of trail, a new permit will need to be acquired from the Army Corps of Engineers, and the approval process for such permits is a long one, according to Powers.

The Messenger reported Tuesday that Commissioner Charlie Adkins had asked why the trail’s elevation issues were just coming to light, and he wondered who is at fault — the design firm hired by the commissioners, or ODOT? Commissioner Lenny Eliason replied that the complaint was with ODOT. Powers noted that she believes the county has been a “victim” of ODOT having too much work, and having a bad contractor. Adkins noted that the same issues likely would have occurred if the county had been managing the project instead of ODOT.

In a statement to the Messenger on Wednesday, a spokesperson for ODOT wrote that “while ODOT had some oversight in reviewing plans, the commissioners approved the final design, which did not incorporate a minimum elevation into the scope of work.”

“Due to unique circumstances, including the fact that the contractor is behind schedule and being assessed liquidated damages, ODOT has been more involved with this project than most other projects involving local governments,” the statement continued. “ODOT continues to work within the parameters of the contract and is working with the bonding company to ensure the project is completed.”

ODOT awarded the contract to Freedom Construction Enterprises, and assessed the contractor liquidated damages for the period of time past the completion date of Sept. 30 through Dec. 5, and resumed assessing liquidated damages when work resumed this spring.

In July 2018, ODOT warned the company it was facing liquidated damages of $600 per day. In January, an ODOT spokesperson told The Messenger that the bonding company has become heavily involved in the process and is providing some third-party oversight to monitor the remaining work.

Eliason responded Wednesday to ODOT’s statement by saying, “We passed a motion to let ODOT finish the project as planned.”

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