A company picked for a project to make traffic safer around a shipping facility on Oxford’s western edge recently started preliminary work for the project, the city’s engineer said this week — nearly two years after the company won a contract for the job.
Oxford officials agreed to do something when residents of Fish Hatchery Lane in Eastaboga complained in 2013 that their narrow, residential road couldn’t safely handle tractor trailers hauling goods to a 70,000-square foot FedEx shipping facility that was then just a plan.
As the new facility and the jobs it’d bring came closer to realization in 2014, the Oxford City Council hired a Birmingham engineering firm and paid it for two traffic studies, at a $12,500 cost, and then a $106,250 plan from the same firm to fix the problem foreseen by outspoken residents along the road, not even within the city’s limits.
After the plan was finished, officials in 2015 asked for bids from paving companies willing to make the changes suggested: extra turning lanes onto Fish Hatchery Lane from U.S. 78; grading that would make the lane more level at that intersection; and paving that’d make it wider, accommodating tractor trailer traffic, as well as a second entrance into the facility’s parking lot.
McCartney Construction Company — with headquarters in Gadsden, two quarries, one plant and sister company Calhoun Asphalt in Glencoe — was the lowest bidder on that work. Oxford’s leaders awarded the company a nearly $500,000 contract for it on July 21, 2015.
The city’s engineer, Rusty Gann, said by text message Tuesday that the company had recently done preliminary surveying and field engineering for the project.
“We are getting closer to getting construction underway,” wrote Gann, out of town for a conference.
That construction hasn’t started yet, he wrote, because the company has “several much larger projects going on.” When the council’s members picked McCartney for the job, Gann said the company had 15 days to begin work.
Efforts were unsuccessful this week to reach an operations manager with the company.
Gann said he’d not been given an indication when construction might begin, and planned to meet with the company next week, after his return.
While there’s been little progress on the fix officials promised, the wrecks feared by some residents of Fish Hatchery Lane and Fish Hatchery Road, further north, don’t seem to have occurred, either. Oxford’s police chief said Wednesday he could not recall his agency responding to any traffic accidents there.
Still, City Councilman Mike Henderson called the lack of progress “disappointing.”
“It’s frustrating to me that we can’t get anything done,” Henderson said by phone Wednesday. “If McCartney can’t get it done ... maybe we need to find someone else to do it.”
Henderson said that before the company was awarded the contract in 2015, he and other officials agreed to provide in-kind services to a family owning property along Fish Hatchery Lane. In return for land needed for the job, the city would clear other property owned by the family, which they intended to sell.
“They’re potentially considering reneging on the deal if something doesn’t happen soon,” he said.
Officials also got FedEx to agree to pay half the project's estimated cost, he said, money that presumably has not been spent. A spokeswoman confirmed that contribution, and in a statement sent by email, wrote that FedEx remains “committed to cooperating with the municipality as they work to complete the safety improvements in progress.”
“Safety is the top priority for FedEx Ground in the communities where we operate,” the statement read.
Henderson did not know if the city’s contract levied fines on McCartney for delays past the 15-day limit Gann mentioned in 2015, and efforts were unsuccessful Wednesday to reach the engineer on the topic.
The councilman said he was surprised he and other elected officials hadn’t heard more from the lane’s residents, who were outspoken in their criticism of the facility’s design in 2013 and 2014.
It may be because their fears haven’t been realized.
“It’s not impacted our life the way we anticipated,” Jo Burns, a retired teacher who lives along the lane, said by phone Wednesday.
Burns said she and other residents who approached the City Council in past years haven’t done so again because they’ve received little information on the project’s status.
Signs warning of construction have been out on the lane for months, she said, but she’s seen no indication of that work, and rumors abound.
“I don’t know what validity there is to any of them,” Burns said. “We spoke to the city because it impacted our lives .... Unless there’s something that we can see that we know is going to impact us ... We’re not voters in Oxford. We have no say over that.”