The Pawnee-Neilson Connector was meant to abate traffic congestion on Whiskey Road, but the project led to some other, very pricey problems.
Those issues included a failure in the newly constructed road that cost the City of Aiken $900,000 to fix. That sparked a lawsuit in an effort for the municipality to recoup those funds.
On Monday night, Council approved a settlement of $200,000 that will be paid by defendant Cranston Engineering Group. The City paid the business approximately $88,605 to design and engineer the connecting roadway in 2005.
Another term of the settlement is that Cranston will be allowed to participate in the bidding process for City projects.
That didn’t sit well with some City Council members. Though the $200,000 to the City clears Cranston of admission of liability to any of the claims made in the lawsuit, the facts behind the case are a little unsettling.
Construction started in the fall of 2008, but by the spring of 2010, the walls of the detention pond that the connecting road wrapped around began to shift, making the road unstable. Construction stopped, and the City brought in Schnabel Engineering Consultants to evaluate the situation. The consultants determined that the detention pond walls were too steep and needed to be reduced. Woolpert Inc. redesigned the road and construction started once again. Finally, in November 2011, the City opened the connector with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The City then caught its breath, reviewed the situation and filed a civil lawsuit against Cranston last spring.
Now, the case is closed and a trial was avoided. Surely, City officials are exasperated by the situation. The connector road, which links Neilson Street to Pawnee Drive, is only a half-mile long. Nobody could have anticipated it to be under construction for three years.
The City saved time, energy and probably money by just accepting the settlement rather than going to trial that was set for June 3.
But there’s no solid closure for the City or the residents in this painfully expensive mistake.
As Councilwoman Lessie Price so candidly put it: The situation causes heartburn – for the City and its taxpayers.