Delayed road project driving some folks mad

HOLLIS – Some residents have begun calling the road construction project on Depot Road “The Little Big Dig,” speculating that the work that started about eight months ago is likely to go on indefinitely and cost them a sizable amount of their hard-earned money.

“There’s been a lot of interest,” Pepperell Road resident John Sias said. “They’ve stopped thousands of cars and made them wait, and it doesn’t seem feasible.”

Sias isn’t the only one complaining.

Town Administrator Troy Brown said local motorists have been calling him to express their frustrations over the long-running project to replace a 100-year-old granite culvert that conveys water from Sucker Brook under the roadway.

Specifically, motorists are unhappy about the long waits and one-lane, alternating traffic pattern established to accommodate construction crews.

The construction site is close to the Route 111 section of Depot Road.

From the start, the road project has encountered delays.

“Bad weather and design problems set the project back,” Brown said he has been telling residents.

According to a Web site run by the state Department of Transportation, the project was scheduled to start in August and conclude in October. But problems at the site began in May, following heavy rains that eroded the inside of the old culvert, causing state officials to erect jersey barriers and temporary traffic signals.

The road was “red listed” after a sinkhole formed in the westbound lane of Depot Road and the cribbing used to support the culvert failed.

Around this time, the state began taking bids from contractors for the project, eventually awarding the job to Virgin Construction, of Franklin, for $400,000, said Kevin Lapointe, state Department of Transportation project manager for the Hollis dig.

He said the contractor experienced one problem after another.

First there was the weather, a spate of rainstorms that continued through the summer.

Then, there were the design problems that forced the contractor to replace a one-piece, pre-cast, concrete culvert with three pieces, necessary to circumvent electrical wires.

“We needed a low-water environment, which you usually have in August,” Lapointe said. “The water level this summer was absolutely atrocious.”

The previous August, he said, “There was no water running through Sucker Brook.”

Lapointe said a water surge resulting from heavy spring rains scoured the granite culvert, causing structural damage and the “red listing” of the road.

“We needed special equipment, a water pump to convey the brook around the site,” Lapointe said.

He said temporary traffic signals erected at the site in May were replaced in mid-July, before the contractor was set to begin work.

“It’s taken us three months,” Lapointe said Thursday, recalling a series of setbacks, including heavy rains last week that closed the road for half a day.

Lapointe said the contractor has had to absorb additional costs associated with the delays.

“The contractors are taking this one on the nose,” he said.

Meanwhile, town residents, weary of waiting in one-lane traffic, continue to wonder aloud, often with the aid of expletives, about the source and cost of the delays.

“I can’t imagine what the hell is going on,” Sias said.

Nor has it been easy for the construction workers.

“Everybody working at the site has a dull look in their eyes when they drive up,” Lapointe said.

He said construction of the pipe under the roadway could be completed by Tuesday.

“Hopefully, the week of Veterans Day, Depot Road will be back to two-lane,” Lapointe said.