County claims construction site flagman is unnecessary expense

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

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.  Jim Blaylock/Staff
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.

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.

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rcs2749
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rcs2749 04/24/07 - 07:30 am
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$201,000 for a flagman for 1

$201,000 for a flagman for 1 year???? Geez I am in the wrong line of work.

fd1962
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fd1962 04/24/07 - 07:31 am
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Best value for the County
Unpublished

Best value for the County would be to post Mercer out there instead - give him something useful to do.

way
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way 04/24/07 - 07:58 am
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$201,000 has to be typing

$201,000 has to be typing error !

Wickerman
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Wickerman 04/24/07 - 08:30 am
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What's the difference between

What's the difference between the county getting taken for 220k plus-one time; and all the ciitzens of Augusta and surrounding communities being taken by outrageous (inflated) fees durings Masters? In a mandatory move with the military, my hotel began charging $550.00 per day during masters! This after paying 90 bucks prior. Talk about a rip-off, and the city/county/state can't do anything to prevent this gouging? So much for my welcome to Augusta. County Commissioners help stop US from being railroaded every year!!! As far as the choo-choo, anyone with a walkie-talkie, and who knows what a train looks like can do what they'er going to pay this flagman/woman to do. Hell, I'd do it for $25,000, maybe 30.

GoKnights1
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GoKnights1 04/24/07 - 10:31 am
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Man, How do I get that job!

Man, How do I get that job! Thats like $100 bucks an hour.

djm
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djm 04/24/07 - 11:50 am
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Do you people understand that

Do you people understand that the salary of that employee is around 2.5 times smaller than the 201,000, so potentially 84,000 (max). I'm sure that the railroad company has to pay tons in insurance and worker's comp because of the danger of the job.
This person has a lot riding on them, safety of the workers, safety of the train, and safety of the surrounding area. If something were to happen, you guys would be the first to jump all over him and CSX.

BR549
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BR549 04/24/07 - 11:51 am
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Correct me if I'm wrong, but

Correct me if I'm wrong, but why is a flagman needed when the tracks are well off of the roadway? If the railroad knows that there is construction between certain hours, wouldn't it be more cost effective, and smarter, to let the train engineer know that he needs to slow down in that area during that time and also let the construction crews know what the train schedule is? Who is the flagman going to control? I think that someone in the county government needs to let the railroad know that they are full of hot air.

Cody_Webster
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Cody_Webster 04/24/07 - 01:12 pm
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$201,000 WOW!! The county can

$201,000 WOW!! The county can do anything it feels like to it's tax paying citizens and get away with it, right or wrong. Looks like the railroad can do anything it feels like to the county and get away with it, right or wrong. Finally what goes around comes around and sling shots right back to the tax paying citizen again. Bend over please....

truthbknown
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truthbknown 04/24/07 - 01:52 pm
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I think I'm going to work for

I think I'm going to work for CSX. That is a ridiculous price. CSX needs to get real. Most flag people only get paid about $8.00 per hour. I know!! Been there, done it....

patriciathomas
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patriciathomas 04/24/07 - 09:22 pm
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truthbknown, a flagman is

truthbknown, a flagman is subservient to a conductor, an apprentice if you will. It's a skilled position. Why it's needed when there is no crossing is a mystery though. Sounds like a scam to me.

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