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Thursday, January 2

2013 in review....

When 2013 began three major projects sat in limbo after the financial collapse of one of the department’s most oft-used road builders while a flurry of major projects awaited a start date.

Those three stalled projects – including two segments of Wurzbach Parkway and the I-10 Huebner project – resumed in the spring after being released by a bankruptcy court and new contractors were selected by the projects’ bonding company. Most of the early work done on each project was maintenance – the projects needed to be cleaned up and inventory taken.

Just as the year came to a close, victory! The first segment of Wurzbach Parkway, running from Blanco Road to West Avenue, opened for traffic. Yes, an issue with the bridge deck surface is holding us back from opening the Blanco Road overpass just yet … but we got that segment of the parkway opened and operational. The bridge deck surface issue, by the way, is about ride quality and not structure. We’re trying to provide the best-quality product we can, and this is a major topic of conversation between TxDOT leaders and the responsible bonding company.

Work continues on the eastern segment, also slowed by the Ballenger Construction bankruptcy; we hope to have the stretch from Jones-Maltsberger to Wetmore opened by the end of summer. With major road builder Webber Construction working on the I-10 Huebner project, we’re assured the project should be substantially completed by early 2015 (which is amazingly not far off the original completion target).

With all that said, let’s take a look at a few of the successes enjoyed by TxDOT during 2013.

Traffic signals

In January we turned on McMullen County’s first-ever full traffic signal. The intersection of state Highways 16 and 72 was fitted to a traffic signal that offers protected left-turn lanes and traffic control for two major corridors for the booming Eagle Ford Shale energy traffic.

Later in the year we turned on a new signal at the intersection of state Highway 46 and Rudeloff Road just north of Seguin. More than 21,000 vehicles pass through that intersection each day, with many using Rudeloff Road to reach the local airport. The signal replaces two-way stop signs and has improved safety at that critical intersection – and has improved the gateway to the Guadalupe-Comal community for those who commute via aircraft.

Finally, as part of a major project up in north Comal County, we built and turned on a signal at the intersection of U.S. Highway 281 and Rebecca Creek Road (in Spring Branch). That signal has already added a huge amount of safety to the intersection and will prove critical when our work to convert Highway 281 to a divided highway is finished by the end of 2015.

Finished projects

2013 was a year of continuing efforts. About a dozen projects were completed through the year, each surrounding sidewalk improvements or road resurfacing. The biggest project to wrap up was the “hot-in-place” resurfacing project on I-37 on the south end of Bexar County.

In terms of our most major projects, last year was one of those years where we simply continued that which we started. And, in fairness, we started quite a bit of projects through the year.

Started projects

More than $221 million in contracts were awarded with work starting during 2013. Now, that’s just the actual contract amount, not total project costs (contract amounts do not include design and other costs associated with a project before it even starts). These projects range from adding capacity to the highway to reconstructing frontage roads to landscaping improvements. Here are a few highlights:

Seguin Avenue (New Braunfels): Austin Bridge Company is rebuilding a UPRR bridge and widening the main entryway to downtown New Braunfels. The icing on the cake here is the fact Austin Bridge is the same company that built the original UPRR bridge as part of the Works Progress Administration program back in the 1930s. Work started in January and will wrap up late spring 2014.

U.S. Highway 281 (Spring Branch): Hunter Industries started this 30-month project that turns a country highway into a four-lane divided highway in February and is already about halfway through the work, putting them on pace to potentially finish the work before the end of 2014. There are several factors that may impact that, however, including the fate of the Spring Branch Post Office.

FM 306 (Comal County): Another project by Hunter Industries, this is two-year project that’s also just more than halfway done. It started in March. While building two overpasses to separate the road traffic from UPRR railroad traffic is a major portion of this work, we’re also expanding the road to a four-lane divided highway.

I-35 SAMMC (northeast San Antonio): Thanks in part to a $20 million boost from the Department of Defense, Lane Construction was able to begin work expanding and adjusting I-35 between the two I-410 interchanges, near San Antonio Military Medical Center (SAMMC). Work started in November.

Fred-Med (Medical Center): One of the more anticipated projects in San Antonio is a “grade separation” project at the intersection of Fredericksburg Road and Medical Drive. The project had been initially slated to begin early 2012, but was pushed back by utility adjustments and issues with a previous contractor. This summer the contract was awarded to Texas Sterling Construction, who began work in September. They are on pace to finish the project on time, by early 2015.

I-10 resurface and restripe (near Crossroads): This three-month project flew largely under the radar, but added a lane in each direction for folks driving between I-410 and Wurzbach Road on the northwest side of town. Clark Construction is nearly finished, and should be wrapped up within the next few weeks (weather permitting!).

I-10 Seguin: This conversion of the frontage road along I-10 between Highway 46 and FM 725 is being done by Angel Brothers Construction and is entirely funded by local sources. Not only will this nine-month project, which started in October, make the area safer, but it will add to the growing economic corridor of the blossoming town.

Major milestones

The biggest milestone in the news this year was that of the northbound I-35 exit to Forum Parkway, which was closed near the beginning of the year to be reconstructed. We took what was a zipper-weave ramp with exiting and entering traffic merging with one another, competing for road space, and turned it in to a braided ramp with exiting traffic bridged over traffic entering northbound I-35 from Loop 1604.

Nearly six weeks after closing the ramp, the contractor discovered some design issues holding them back from building. Resolution of those issues pushed deep into our summer months, and when the contractor returned attention to the ramp they pushed hard to finish in time for the Christmas shopping season (the new exit ramp is a major route to The Forum at Olympia Parkway). That time frame was successfully met, and Santa helped us open the ramp the day before Thanksgiving.

The first of three major milestones on the I-10 Huebner project kicked in when lanes on I-10 over Fredericksburg Road were closed for about two months while Webber Construction rebuilt the bridge deck surface, forcing one of the lanes of main lane traffic to use the frontage road. To the credit of the contractor, that work was finished and the main lanes reopened three days earlier than the original 70-day target.

Out of the blue

A recap of the year wouldn’t be complete without recognizing the quick work and assistance of contractors who responded – with astonishing haste, no less – to emergency situations this year. Most notably, this includes an unused bridge over U.S. Highway 281 that was hit by a truck this summer.

The crash caused a closure of some main lanes on U.S. 281 that lasted several days, and the total closure of the highway for a weekend. Hunter Industries was able to complete the work to repair the bridge and clean up the mess in less than 30 hours, though they had more than 72 to finish the work.

On I-35 between Schertz and New Braunfels a garbage truck hit the underside of an overpass, causing structural concerns for a lane of the northbound I-35 main lanes. Hunter again came to help, offering equipment to assist in the short-term. Dan Williams Construction finished the work fast, though – getting the crossing under I-35 reopened in a matter of weeks rather than months.

Looking forward

Over the course of 2014, we’re looking forward to completing the bookends of the Wurzbach Parkway project as well as finish the I-35 project through Selma and Schertz. If we get favorable conditions, we could wrap up work on FM 306 near Gruene and on U.S. Highway 281 in Spring Branch. We’ll finish the Seguin Avenue project being done by Austin Bridge and Road.

The Main Street bridge in Boerne should be finished soon, and Relmco is expected to get the expansion of Highway 39 in Ingram near completion by year’s end. We’ll wrap up work on an overpass for Loop 1604 at Marbach by mid-year as well.

Meanwhile, we’re starting a project to convert Loop 1604 to an expressway (overpasses!) between Bandera Road and Culebra Road in northwest San Antonio. That should kick off this spring, as will some smaller projects in New Braunfels.

Those in the Fair Oaks Ranch and Boerne Stage Road area will see significant upgrades to the frontage roads along I-10, with work on the Ralph Fair Road overpass starting this spring.

And that’s the year in review!