AUGUSTA — Higher than expected construction costs and a lack of availabile contractors are hampering another city project — the reconstruction of Murray Street.

Murray Street residents say the road is in such horrendous condition it’s knocking their new cars out of alignment and leaving chunks of broken pavement in their driveways.

City councilors are scheduled to meet Thursday to consider a proposal to delay other planned repaving projects to free up the $100,000 needed — beyond the $450,000 the city had budgeted — to rebuild Murray Street, a residential street of less than a half-mile between Bangor Street and South Belfast Avenue.

The new plan includes starting work this summer and doing the lower section, but delaying reconstruction of the upper — and, residents say, the worst — part of Murray Street until the summer of 2020.

Janet Bumford, who lives on the upper section of the street, said it is in such bad shape that when leaving her home that she stays on Murray only long enough to get to Trask Street, a side street, which she takes to get to the adjacent Quimby Street to go back down to Bangor Street and on her way.

“I do not drive on my own street,” she told city councilors last week when the changes to the project were discussed. “It is horrible, absolutely horrendous.”

Fellow Murray Street resident Robin Dennett said city workers come patch the road with tar, but it is in such bad shape when they plow it in the winter that they also tear up chunks of the pavement. She said she couldn’t use her snowblower this winter because there were too many chunks of pavement from the street left behind. Dennett also said she bought a brand new car two months ago and it already needs an alignment, which she said should tell people something about the condition of their street.

The good news for Murray Street users is the new plan would at least hire a contractor to do the lower section — from Bangor Street to Pearl Street — by the end of the 2019 constructions season.

For a while, when the city was looking for a contractor to do all of Murray Street this summer, it looked as though the project might not happen unless changes to the proposal were made, according to Nick Hartley, city engineer. He said it was almost certain the city would not have gotten any bids to rebuild Murray Street if it hadn’t extended the time frame for completion.

He said contractors have said they couldn’t fit the job in because they were already fully committed to other projects for the first half of the construction season.

Hartley said the lower section of Murray Street was chosen because it shouldn’t take contractors as long to do that part as it would the upper section — and because it has a higher potential to deteriorate sooner, given that as far as anyone could recall, it has never had a substantial construction project take place on it.

With the change, the city did get bidders on the job, but the low bid — at more than $500,000 — was still about $100,000 more than the city expected it to cost and had set aside for its share of the work in the project being led by the Greater Augusta Utility District. The district plans to replace water lines under the street.

City Manager William Bridgeo said the bids coming in high, and the difficulty in finding a contractor to do the work, are a result of construction firms having an abundance of work and a shortage of workers. The city faced a similar situation in trying to find a contractor to both reconfigure Water Street to allow for the planned change in traffic flow from one-way to two-way traffic, and to rebuld and improve Commercial Street this year. Councilors have approved a plan to increase funding for those projects — by $626,000 — which will come from delaying other previously planned construction work elsewhere in the city. Initial work has since begun on the project to change the traffic flow downtown.

“I’ve been in city management for 40 years and I’ve never seen a circumstance like this when it comes to having projects and not getting bidders or getting bidders only at a 25, 50, or 75 percent premium over an engineering estimate that’s only a year old,” Bridgeo told councilors last week. “It’s really crazy, but if we want to rebuild these streets, we don’t really have much choice.

“In normal circumstances, Adam Smith, the economist from the 1700s, would tell you a thriving business in a market like this would double its size, its capacity, and would hire a whole bunch more people, buy some more equipment and make double the profit,” he added. “The problem is the workers aren’t out there to accomplish that.”

The additional $100,000 for Murray Street would come from repaving projects planned for Community Drive near the Augusta Civic Center, and Anthony Avenue and Darin Drive in the Augusta Business Park, according to Bridgeo.

“It’s staff’s opinion that that work can wait without potentially doing damage to those streets or causing undue distress, and thus avoiding stress and distress to the good residents of Murray Street,” Bridgeo said.

City councilors will meet to consider approving the proposed plan to move money to pay for the Murray Street project at their 7 p.m. meeting Thursday in council chambers at Augusta City Center.

At-large Councilor Marci Alexander told Murray Street residents last week that all councilors have said they would support the order making the change.


Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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