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Business owners lambaste TDOT with complaints
Mar 28, 2007 12:00 am
Tennessee Department of Transportation officials in a tense Saturday community meeting faced a room full of vexed Adams Lane business owners worried the protracted road construction at their center is threatening their livelihoods.
TDOT officials said the highly charged meeting ended up being "more than we bargained for" as business owners demanded to know why the project is so behind schedule, when it will be completed and why days go by without anyone working. Top level city and state officials were there too.
Work to revamp Adams Lane which leads to the new plaza is months behind and a barrier erected weeks ago has blocked a vital first entrance to the plaza causing customers to turn away in droves, the proprietors say.
TDOT assistant chief engineer Steve Hall and Jerry Hatcher from TDOT's construction division took the heat as the business owners put a personal face on the delayed road project and described how the holdup has nearly stopped walk-in traffic.
Wendy Clarke owns the Sprint store at the plaza. She said business has dropped over 40 percent because of the road construction.
"I want to know if we get a financial break?" she asked TDOT officials. "That's why I'm here today. What kind of financial restitution do we get? I'm struggling to pay my bills!"
State Rep. Susan Lynn called the meeting. State Sen. Mae Beavers was there, along with Mt. Juliet Mayor Linda Elam and City Commissioner Jim Bradshaw, as well as the city public works director and his team.
The fact TDOT contractor Jenco – hired to oversee the Adams Lane project – was no where to be seen Saturday punctuated the proprietors' case Jenco workers weren't at the construction site Friday either – a state of affairs business owners said was "blatantly irresponsible."
Hall acknowledged he was "extremely disappointed" not to see work being done Saturday.
"I know," he said. "I can't believe they aren't working."
Hall said the road project was delayed on the front-end.
"There were some utility delays that put this project behind four to five months," Hall said. "There was a time extension granted because of this."
And while TDOT spokesperson B.J. Doughty said last week the TDOT commissioner has not yet signed off on that extension, Hall said Jenco has until April 30 to complete the entire road project. He said the extension was allowed because the delay was for "legitimate" reasons. The utility delay was an ambiguous point of discussion, with TDOT officials indicating there was a problem pinpointing West Wilson Utility lines.
Hatcher said though the project must be complete by April 30 or Jenco faces liquidated damages of up to $1,400 each day the job's late, experts predict the project won't be completed until mid-June.
Hall said TDOT has used Jenco on other jobs with no problem, and that the delay appears to be with Jenco's subcontractors.
"They have not violated their contract yet," Hall told the frustrated business owners.
Angel's Dream Gift Basket owner Jackie Miller said since the barricade that blocks the plaza's essential front entrance was erected, not one customer has visited her store.
"This is killing me," she said. "When is that barricade coming down?"
Hall said the entrance would be re-opened "before Easter we hope."
He also promised to put up a big sign to lead customers to the second entrance with is currently gravel, full of holes and nearly washed away.
"We'll put down asphalt on that entry," he said. "Even if it's additional money."
The business owners became agitated when they said days go by without Jenco at the job. Tropitana owner Alex Friedrichsen left mid-meeting, shaking his head in disgust when TDOT officials said Jenco would not be in violation of their contract until after April 30, despite the fact they aren't at the job.
"I just thought it was ridiculous," he said later. "The reason the job's not completed is because they aren't working. They should be made to work..and on the weekends too. I don't care if there was an initial delay, that could be overcome if they just worked and got it done."
Friedrichsen said his customers are going to his competition across the street and paying higher prices, just to avoid all the construction.
As the tension increased, the owner of Dalton Carpet asked about a class action lawsuit against the contractor and noted there was a legal avenue called loss of bargain which may have to be explored.
"I know Jenco is saying there was a utility problem so it won't seem like it's his fault," Elam said. "I'm begging you, TDOT, to look past this. We've seen almost 100 days of bright and beautiful weather and nobody's doing anything here. Take away those 100 days and this could have been finished."
Beavers said her biggest fear is the project won't get completed and "some of this businesses won't survive."
One unnamed business owner stormed in, took the floor and said the delayed project is "costing our businesses."
"Quit telling these people all this stuff," he said angrily. "They pay taxes. I'm an engineer and I know how this works. Direct them to work on this job 24/7 and get it done!"
Lynn asked and was told a letter campaign may bring more attention to the problem.
Hall ended up pleading with the business owners to give him "two weeks."
"We'll try to get things much better by then," he said. "Or I know I'll be hearing from you."
After the meeting, Hall said TDOT plans to work with Jenco on supplying more subcontractors to accelerate work.
"I'll give them only two weeks," Miller said as she headed to her empty storefront. "Then I start climbing the ladder and will call for an investigation. We are being crushed and this has been blatantly mismanaged, at the cost of us."
Adams Lane owner Sahalia Willis said it's about survival now.
"Fortunes are invested in this plaza," she said. "We were promised this work would be done Nov. 15. This is a travesty."