High construction costs have halted a much-needed intersection improvement project in Ocoee.
City leaders discussed during the March 3 Ocoee commission meeting an infrastructure project to bring improvements to the intersection of Fullers Cross Road and Ocoee Apopka Road. The discussion was spurred on when a resident, Greg Keether, asked commissioners the status of the improvements planned for the intersection.
The city and the county have been working together to improve the intersection by adding left-hand turning lanes to each leg of the intersection. Although city and county officials began the process to improve the intersection last year, those improvements have been put on pause due to high construction costs. Engineers for both the city and the county came up with cost estimates for the project that were much lower than originally anticipated. City and county engineers initially did not expect costs of the project to exceed $1 million, however, the construction company that was awarded the bid for the project provided a cost of about $2.2 million for the improvements, Assistant City Manager Craig Shadrix.
“The price that came back was over twice what we had estimated — along with the county — so that’s created a delay,” Shadrix said. “It should have started work (sooner). We had the design work completed back during the summer. We went back to the design engineers saying, ‘Hey, can you make some design changes that might save us money?’ They did that and the contractor that we picked still can’t get the number down.”
Shadrix added that one of the aspects of the project that drove up construction costs is related to the high water table in the area of the intersection. He said that this aspect of the project wasn’t discovered until some initial work for the improvements began.
“We did not know (about the water table) at the time because they had not done enough geotechnical work at that point, which they wouldn’t have in any normal scenario,” Shadrix said. “The water table is very high and has resulted in some design specifications, such as requiring an asphalt base, that are more expensive than other traditional methods of paving.”
“When you’re looking at doing anything to a piece of land, you have to look at the soils and you have to look at where the water table is,” Shadrix later added. “In this case, the water table was determined to be very high, which requires base for the new turn lanes to be of a more expensive material, in this case, asphalt.
Because Fullers Cross Road is a city road and Ocoee Apopka Road is an Orange County road, the city and county previously have entered an interlocal agreement to improve the intersection. Initially, the city and county agreed to a maximum cost for the project estimated at $1 million with the city covering one half of those costs and the county covering the other half. But because the estimated cost of the project is higher than originally anticipated, both the city and county will likely have to shell out more funding for the intersection improvements. The city already has collected some of the funding through adjacent development projects near the intersection for the improvement project.
“Both the county’s engineer and ours estimated that it would never exceed $1 million,” Shadrix said. “The construction company that was awarded the bid to be able to provide a guaranteed maximum price came in at $2.2 million. … We’re waiting for the county to kind of let us know if they think they can shake some money off of it and go a different route..”
The intersection of Fullers Cross Road and Ocoee Apopka Road is notorious for the heavy traffic that occurs during peak morning and afternoon commuting hours. There’s also a number of schools near the intersection and the traffic also backs up during student drop-off and pick-up hours. If all the funding for the intersection improvement project were in place, the project could take up to a year and a half to complete.
“What happens during peak morning and peak afternoon periods is it backs up … in all directions because you have traffic coming from Winter Garden, you have traffic coming from Apopka (and) you have traffic coming from Ocoee,” Shadrix said. “(Also,) you don’t just have Ocoee High (nearby), you have Renaissance Charter School in that same neck of the woods and you also have Innovation Montessori that’s just literally around the corner, so when you look at the actual origin destination of trips, you have a tremendous amount of traffic coming through that intersection at peak times.