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Thursday, January 29

Parkway Progress

This is the year the Parkway will be complete.

All of it.

Take that in for a moment - this is a project that began, as far as planning efforts between city and county and state officials is concerned, in the early 1980s! And now, in this very year, the project will be complete.

The question is when.

The short answer: all segments will be opened and in use by mid-2015. Now, let's get on to the longer answer.

Segment 1: Wetmore to Jones-Maltsberger

This project has been delayed by some materials issues, primarily near the Starcrest Drive overpass. These issues have been identified - and the responsible parties discovered - and a plan is in place to move forward. The trick is finding a string of consecutive days (more than two or three) of warm and clear weather. Once we get that, the issues can be resolved and the contractor will begin this completion.

The eastbound lanes will open first - hopefully well before Fiesta, if all goes well - with the westbound lanes following about two weeks after. The delay on the westbound side will allow crews to complete a small segment of center concrete median barrier right about where the city's brush dump site. That barrier will take a full two weeks to construct, including concrete curing time. Once the median is finished, the westbound lanes can be opened.

There has been another complication arise, however: the copper wiring connecting the traffic lights and signals between Wetmore and Jones-Maltsberger has been stolen. Twice. In the last week.

Because of the thievery, Liberty Mutual and Texas Sterling Construction will keep the copper wiring away from the project until we're ready to open the parkway up. Until that point the lighting along the parkway has been shut off, and will remain that way until we're ready to finish. Drivers should be aware of the snuffed lights and be sure to follow best practices of safe driving and keep their headlights on while driving.

Segment 2: Jones-Maltsberger to West Avenue

One of the more frequent questions about the Parkway sent to us is about the timing of the stretch between West Avenue and Jones-Maltsberger. Many are simply wondering whether the segment between West Avenue and U.S. Highway 281 - which, admittedly, is nearly complete - will open before the overpass at U.S. 281 will.

In a word: no.

Until the project is complete - including the overpass at U.S. 281 - the Parkway is the responsibility (and legal liability) of the contractor. They don't want to take any unnecessary chances. That, and they've got a slew of small things - stuff most folks don't notice right away - left to finish. Stuff like concrete work (we call it rip rap) and connecting drain inlets. We've still got plenty of work on the overpass at West Avenue to finish. The signs along the roadway aren't ready to be installed yet, either (though the overhead sign bridges are mostly constructed at this point). All that must happen before we can open things up.

Be assured the erection of the signs will be one of the very last things to happen. Signs that just sit there are easy targets for "urban artists" to tag; sometimes the damage a $5 can of spraypaint can cause would cost the contractor $5,000 to fix. Until we're about ready to open for traffic, those signs won't be put up.

What's more, we want to have the work along U.S. 281 finished to handle the additional traffic from the Parkway. Williams Brothers is working on some drainage improvements on the northbound side, near Bitters Road, that will open up work along that frontage roads.

With the new, permanent, southbound entrance ramp from Bitters Road now built and the old ramp vacated, crews are working to build the new exit ramp that will serve traffic headed to the Parkway and to Nakoma Drive. The new exit will allow traffic to skip the intersection at Bitters Road. Traffic coming from the Parkway, headed to southbound U.S. 281, will need to pass through Nakoma Drive and use the next available ramp - which has already been rebuilt and upgraded.

Of course, we also have the turnarounds at Nakoma to finish. A date for hanging those beams has not yet been set - that date would be one of the last (if not the last) major closure of U.S. 281 associated with the project. Crews are also working on the braided ramp that will carry northbound traffic exiting to Bitters Road over traffic from Nakoma and Wurzbach Parkway headed to the northbound main lanes. The beams forming the exit ramp to Bitters should be hung by the end of this week.

Some other items still needing to finish up:
  • Concrete barriers - "railing" - on the overpasses at U.S. 281 need to be formed and poured
  • The entrance and exit ramps from the Parkway onto and off of U.S. 281 are still only about halfway to two-thirds complete
  • Electric wires need to be pulled through the project and all illumination poles connected and installed
  • The northbound exit to Wurzbach Parkway needs completed and tied in, shutting down the current Bitters Road exit
  • A ton of "finish work" between U.S. 281 and Jones-Maltsberger
  • About a 100-yard concrete stretch of the new Salado Creek Greenway trail just east of U.S. 281 needs formed and poured
With that work in mind, here are a few closures through the weekend to be mindful of:
  • Tonight, 9 p.m. until midnight, southbound frontage road between Bitters Road and Nakoma, full closure to remove overhang brackets from the overpass
  • Friday morning, 12:01 a.m. until 5 a.m., southbound main lanes between Bitters Road and Nakoma, two alternating lanes will close to remove overhang brackets from the overpass
  • Friday night, 9 p.m. until midnight, northbound frontage road between Nakoma and Bitters Road, two alternating lanes will close to remove overhang brackets from the overpass
  • Saturday morning, 12:01 a.m. until 5 a.m., northbound main lanes between Nakoma and Bitters Road, two alternating lanes will close to remove overhang brackets from the overpass
At the outset, it looks like a lot of work yet to finish, and it is. But we are actually ahead of schedule on the project, and we have every confidence traffic will be driving on the Parkway this summer. The contractor actually has until late 2015 to finish work (the contract runs out of time somewhere in November, at last review), but the reality is we'll likely be opening it up before school starts up in August.

Fingers crossed, we could be opening it up well before that.