By Joel Hall
The Clayton County Transportation and Development Department was taking over a number of road projects Thursday after the departure of CH2M HILL, the county's 2003 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax project management firm.
Transportation and Development Director Jeff Metarko said the county will assume the lead role in several unfinished projects, among them, a large-scale extension of Garden Walk Boulevard.
Though the firm's departure was swift, Metarko said he expects the county to finish the projects in the five-year SPLOST in a timely manner.
"They walked out yesterday so we are taking appropriate measures to keep the projects going," he said Thursday. "All of our senior staff has been involved in the SPLOST projects from their inception. We're ready to step in and assume a large management role in the program."
Metarko said the county will assume construction and inspection management for several projects, the largest of those being the widening and extension of Garden Walk Boulevard, connecting Upper Riverdale Road and Ga. Highway 85 in Riverdale.
"We're widening the roads on both sides and connecting it with a bridge over the creek," said Metarko. "People will be able to go down [Ga.] 85 and take a left turn into the hospital without going down Valley Hill [Road]."
He said the project will provide alternate routes to Southern Regional Medical Center from Ga. 85, as well as three new public schools currently under construction.
One of the new schools, a high school with the capacity for 1,850 students, will open in the fall, according to Clayton County Public Schools.
Tessa Anderson, a spokesperson for CH2M HILL, released a statement on behalf of the company. In it, she noted that at the time of CH2M HILL's departure, several projects were still under construction, including improvements at the intersection of Upper Riverdale Road and Arrowhead Boulevard in Riverdale; improvement to the intersection of Forest Parkway and North Parkway in Forest Park; and the construction of a Joy Lake Dam.
"CH2M HILL has been working in Clayton County for more than a dozen years and has played an active role in the community and improving quality of life not only through our project work, but also through our community involvement," Anderson said.
At noon on Wednesday, after coming to a stalemate with the county on a payment schedule for completed transportation projects, CH2M HILL packed up its Jonesboro office. Since last year, the company has been at odds with the Clayton County Board of Commissioners, as some of its members objected to the company being paid in advance for overseeing projects.
"Through September 2008, we were paid in accordance with the payment schedule," said Anderson. "CH2M HILL has not been paid for work performed since September 2008. This [the departure] was a difficult decision for CH2M HILL to make and we are hopeful that these issues can be resolved quickly so we can resume our service to the county."
Metarko said several projects in the 2003 SPLOST are still in the right-of-way acquisition phase, including the widening of Panola Road from Bouldercrest Road to the Henry County line; projects to add center turn lanes and sidewalks to Norman Drive and Mt. Zion Boulevard from Lake Harbin to Rex Road; and a massive widening of Battle Creek Road.
Metarko said the county is moving forward under the assumption it will have to oversee its own projects.
"We're in the home stretch of the items to be completed," said Metarko. "We are adjusting as needed to provide oversight. We've been a part of everything, we're familiar with everything, so honestly, I don't think we'll skip a beat."