County claims construction site flagman is unnecessary expense

Jim Blaylock/Staff
Columbia County Construction Engineer Matthew Schlachter (left) and Ronnie Hutto, a pre-construction engineer, discuss the plans to widen a portion of Washington Road. CSX Transportation maintains the need for a flagman.

Columbia County Commissioner Tommy Mercer says he thinks the county is getting railroaded.

The culprit, he says, is CSX Transportation, and the cost is adding up to more than $280,000. Ultimately, however, it's an expense he and other commissioners recently approved so a Washington Road widening project can proceed.

Mr. Mercer's specific complaint is a CSX requirement that the county pay for a flagman to stay at the project site.

"There's no need for a flagman. There's no place you can go across that railroad track," he said.

The cost is based on a one-year period and involves a CSX employee who will keep in contact with the engineers of trains as they pass near the project on Washington Road in Martinez.

Mr. Mercer said the flagman is unnecessary and the county could use the money for something else.

CSX officials, however, say the flagman is needed to ensure safety. The flagman would alert train engineers of ongoing work. The flagman could stop construction work or have workers moved if necessary when a train nears.

"Anytime work by a private party or public party will be on our right of way or near our right of way, we do require flagging services be arranged for," said Gary Sease, a spokesman for CSX Transportation. "And that's for the safety of both the workers on the project as well as our train crews."

After being told the county had no choice, commissioners recently agreed to a request funding for the position. The added expenditure was based on a readjustment of costs by CSX, bringing the total flagman cost to more than $284,000, which includes $201,000 for one flagman, said Ronnie Hutto, the county's pre-construction engineer. The remaining amount covers overhead, engineering and other personnel costs, he said.

Mr. Hutto said $400,000 has been secured in state funding for the widening and the project could begin by next month. County officials have said the overall cost of the project could be $1.4 million.

The project will add a 14-foot flush median along the half-mile stretch of Washington Road between Flowing Wells Road and Club Car Drive.

The median would allow left-hand turns without reducing the westbound flow of traffic from two lanes to one, as is now the case. Officials say the stretch of Washington Road has been a bad one for wrecks and that widening would help alleviate that problem.

Mr. Hutto said a deadline for completion hasn't been set, but he'd like to have the widening finished in less than a year from its start date.

Mr. Hutto said CSX would offer a refund should the work be finished before the year is up.

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 868-1222, ext. 115, or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.