Troubled Oxbo Road project becomes the catalyst for change in Roswell

An image of Oxbo Road in Roswell where construction to realign the road stalled in early 2021.  Photo: Adrianne Murchison
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An image of Oxbo Road in Roswell where construction to realign the road stalled in early 2021. Photo: Adrianne Murchison

A stalled road project overbudget by millions of dollars, an independent investigation report on its mismanagement and a new mayor-elect begs the question: What happens now with Oxbo Road and how will Roswell change its business practices.

Mayor-elect Kurt Wilson says that’s on him.

Wilson vows to take ownership of Oxbo on his first day in office in January. He plans to form a citizens transportation advisory commission, he said, adding that his approach to the overbudget project will be the same for how the city functions overall and will bring more organization.

“I’m putting together our contract with Roswell so when we take office (we can say) ‘Here’s our timetable and here’s what we are going to get done,’” Wilson said.

Wilson was elected Roswell’s new mayor with 60% of the vote, beating Mayor Lori Henry and candidate Jason Yowell. His victory came just weeks after the release of an independent investigation report cited mismanagement and other issues as causes for delay and overspending. Henry launched the investigation in February but has been under heavy criticism for the project which is at least $5 million overbudget.

Henry said recently the investigation report has moved Rowell forward and will result in something good for the city that she takes credit for.

“I was the one that launched the investigation and got us to this point,” Henry said. “You will see that my investigation has created change that is positive for Roswell.”

Wilson predicts more cost overruns after he enters office, but in addressing them Roswell residents will no longer be in the dark, he said.

“This has been a bouncing ball,” Wilson said of Oxbo. “No one has gotten dirty and said what really is the problem that we have here. I accept that people will get mad at me. I will figure out what needs to be done.”

The city is realigning Oxbo Road and nearby side streets and intends to build a safer intersection with South Atlanta Street. But work on the closed road stopped in early 2021. Project costs have zoomed past its $9 million budget to almost $14 million.

City Council recently learned that E.R. Snell Contractor, Inc., which was hired for the Oxbo roadwork in 2019 for $5.9 million, wants to amend its contract for at least an additional $600,000.

Deputy City Administrator Michael Fischer told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the possible increase will be discussed further after interim Transportation Director Dan Skalsky and city staff are up to speed on the state of the roadwork and the properties that were acquired.

Roswell replaced former Transportation Director Muhammad Rauf in October and named Skalsky as interim director. Skalsky was serving as the director of public works.

The city has begun to follow recommendations of the Jarrard & Davis law firm,which conducted the Oxbo Road project investigation. Policies are also being reinforced for the training and certification of project managers. The city has a 2017 manual of project management guidelines that haven’t been followed, Fischer acknowledged in an Oct. 27 transportation meeting with City Council members.

Wilson told the AJC that residents have been left out of the process. The mayor-elect said he will form a transportation advisory commission of residents who will weigh in on how projects impact residents’ quality of life.

When Henry released the investigation report on the Oxbo Road project on Sept. 30, she said she was unaware and surprised by the “extent of the issues with this project,” particularly those pertaining to the acquisition of land.

Wilson said he believes part of Roswell’s problem has been that city departments don’t communicate and have different strategies that inevitably conflict. Wilson said that has likely led to overly long City Council meetings that can last four to six hours.

“Everyone has a different agenda,” Wilson said, looking ahead to his agenda as mayor. “This mayor and City Council will come out with one strategy and vision for the city ... The city will work off that basis. A lot of undercurrent that pops up, if it doesn’t fit with the overall mission, will be negated.”

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