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Monday, June 1

How did all the rain impact construction?

The flooding around the state was so prevalent this month, news of the destruction and dangers we've faced as Texans went national. Our folks in Austin even produced a video before the weekend to encourage Texans to be safe traveling in or around flooded areas.

The record-breaking rainfall did quite a number on our roads, and as our executive director pointed out in the video our maintenance crews are working hard to assess all the damage across the state and clear roads that got washed over. Some roads are in need of quick repair (in Bexar County, we had a slope begin to give way near the northbound I-37 ramp to I-10 south of downtown, which is why the northbound entrance from Fair is closed), and our maintenance folks are on top of things.

Construction operations were impacted heavily as well. Most projects in our 12-county area were pushed 3-6 weeks behind their initial schedules because of the rain. For instance on I-10 between Huebner Road and Loop 1604 overnight paving operations were ceased for more than three weeks, pushing back to completion of the northbound lanes and the northbound exit to DeZavala Road. On Loop 1604 between Bandera and Culebra roads a plan to have traffic moved onto frontage roads by June 1 (today!) has been pushed back to late June.

Other projects have suffered as well - on FM 306 in New Braunfels, crews are still working on the bridges that will fully expand the road to a five-lane road. On Hwy 39 out in Ingram crews missed a target to have that road in its final configuration by June 1 (again, today).

What is it, besides the rain, that's made these delays so significant? We've had some dry days, after all - why couldn't the work be done on those dry days?

Wet ground
Ground parched by drought acts like a dry sponge when water hits it, swelling up a bit. It actually gets really sloppy - acting like it's not seen water before. The slurry becomes unworkable and unstable.

When the wet ground gets even wetter, the water becomes runoff - further saturating the surrounding areas. This is when dirt slopes start to falter if crews aren't careful. More can be read about it right here.

The condition creates a scenario where crews can't do a whole lot of digging and they have to take care where heavy equipment is run. Dirt work grinds to a standstill, and workers are occupied with keeping the area as dry as they can. Sometimes that's done by harrowing the ground to allow greater water penetration. Sometimes it's done by simply pumping the water away from a project area. Whatever it is these guys are doing, it's not progressing the work of installing drain inlets and box culverts, and it's not laying roadway base.

Wet asphalt
Wet asphalt won't take roadway paint. We can't place another layer of asphalt on a wet base layer of asphalt. We can't seal coat on top of a base layer of asphalt.

When the weather is wet, we really can't do much of anything related to asphalt. This has led to pushing back work on I-10 and work at Fred-Med back nearly five weeks - we've had a string of several wet weekends.

Wet stockpiles
This doesn't happen regularly, but with the May showers we saw stockpiles with our suppliers saturate and flood. That flooding destroyed several stockpiles of asphalt with suppliers. These suppliers provide asphalt and other materials to our several contractors across the 12 counties we cover.

When these stockpiles get soaked the way they have in May, they have to be scrapped and production begins anew - only that production couldn't start until some dry days came. Now there's a backlog of materials needs and the suppliers are working hard to catch up to keep all of our contractors moving. The problem with that is the production plants are running constantly and risk more frequent break-downs (which is what precipitated this morning's traffic snarl on westbound I-10 at DeZavala Road).