Columbia mayor Chaz Molder posted to his Facebook page last week that paving on West 7th Street would begin on Monday. Paving crews from Session Paving were on hand to finish the process, which was approved in 2019 following four years of planning.

“We are really excited about this project, and anybody who has followed the news in Columbia over the past few years knows that it is a long time coming,” Molder said when the project was announced.

Since that time, delays have continued to push the completion date past the November 2020 deadline. Much of the blame has been placed on AT&T for failing to meet timelines for utility lines.

“There are really two important points that I hear,” Molder said in the August BOMA meeting. “For one, it’s that AT&T is on the job and conducting their work, which was not the case the last time we received a report from (Sessions project manager) Wayne DeMoss.”

“What’s been the problem with all of the delays has mostly been the utilities,” DeMoss said during a February study session meeting. “Columbia Water & Power moved in and worked very diligently on trying to get their stuff underground, and Columbia Broadband has also worked very diligently, but in the construction world we like to say, ‘AT&T is AT&T,’ and they are an entity all their own.”

Molder said there is plenty of blame to go around, but with the project in its final stage, the end result will have been worth the wait.

“The West 7th Street project was riddled with delay — some of those delays attributable to a global pandemic, major weather events, and utility companies doing their work on their own schedule instead of the project schedule, but as a city we must recognize that some of the delays were due to factors we could have likely controlled,” he said. “Once this project is finally complete there will be an opportunity to evaluate those short falls so that the next such project runs more efficiently, but for now, we will celebrate the pending completion of this project.

“I said at the outset that this project would be difficult and painful, and while we may have underestimated exactly how difficult it would prove to be, I also said in the end, it would be worth it.”

Formerly a four-lane highway, the street will be narrowed to three lanes, with the middle serving as a turn lane. The project has seen the West 7th corridor from South High Street to Hastings Street transformed to look much like the downtown square area. Right of ways have also been converted into pedestrian walkways, as well as dedicated bike lanes.

“As we travel down West 7th Street, no utility lines in sight, fresh landscaping, benches new lighting and an overall upgraded entry point from the west in to our historical downtown district, I think we can all be proud of the finished product, once and for all,” Molder said.

Of the $7 million project, the state contributed half of the cost, while private funds and utility funds from Columbia Water and Power System added $1.3 million in funding, leaving the city with $2.2 million of the costs.

Weather-permitting, paving work should last about four days, Molder said. The entire project is set to be complete Nov. 5 with all concrete work completed and final walkthroughs completed.

“The finish line is in sight,” Molder said in his post.

Chris Yow has served as the managing editor for the Trussville (Ala.) Tribune and, most recently, the Spring Hill Advertiser News. He has worked as a sports editor and has covered high school sports in different capacities for 18 years.

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