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Wednesday, June 3

Mail Bag: Probandt, graffiti, daytime closures and more

Last week was a short week, and we've been working to catch up with other work from the rains of late May. Apologies for the delay on the Mail Bag post! Here are your questions, answered:

When I regularly used to drive on the Wurzbach Parkway segment between Blanco and West Ave, the private nook designated for SARA always suffers from repeated tagging and graffiti - and, for a brief period, this extended to the noise wall near Blanco. More often than not, I noticed the graffiti was gone on my way home. I'm curious: whose responsibility is it to clean up, and how do they work that into their schedules? Are there any plans to discourage people from tagging these areas?
- Donald

Great questions, Donald. First, we always discourage tagging. Graffiti is a frustrating and expensive form of vandalism, and we do what we can to wipe it out. A lot of the cleanup is done through volunteer programs, and we partner with the city to do that. We also take care of some of that by our own maintenance forces, which means you're paying someone to clean up the mess someone senselessly left behind out of ego.

Does that sound like some harsh talk? Well, we've got more, but we'll keep this family friendly.

As an abatement effort, though, most of our concrete structures are painted with anti-graffiti coating, which makes easier cleaning of the spray paint left behind. Our signs cannot be painted or scrubbed though, as the process can harm the sign's reflectivity. Instead, we have to replace the sign altogether. Again, that's done by our maintenance guys on a rotating schedule as we can get to it (potholes and safety items are done with higher priority).

There's something you can do to help, though. If you see graffiti anywhere in/around San Antonio, there's an app to report it - on Android and on Apple. You'll be surprised (pleasantly) at how effective using that app will be to prevent, eliminate and erase graffiti from your neck of the woods.

Currently when you take the westbound Ralph Fair Road exit and continue up to RFR, the one-way frontage road squeezes down to one lane for all of about 200 feet. The only thing I can see in this closed lane is the temporary barrier used for road closures. The construction access point is before the squeeze point, and there is no construction happening on that side. Can you explain this closure to us and why it can't be opened to reduce the backup on the RFR exit ramp?

Dan, you're not the only one that's asked about this. The fix is coming - soon. The reason that's been left closed, honestly, is because it's not yet been finished for traffic. That, and until the bridge is opened up in full, we can't open up that frontage road any more than it is.

Frankly, what you have now is no different than the pre-existing condition (except the elimination of oncoming traffic coming from Ralph Fair Road). You shouldn't be seeing any more backup now than you would have seen two years ago. But we're trying hard to change that - we want to decrease significantly the congestion you are seeing!

At any rate, the bottom line is we'll be finished with that project (weather permitting!) later this month. We're talking a matter of a few short weeks to have everything in place and a final product delivered to you. By the way, that means we're on pace to be as much as a month ahead of schedule (thank you Sundt Construction)!

Another good detour for the Probandt ramp closure is to head south on Probandt to Theo, then west on Theo to I-35, then get on I-35 (NB for most folks; SB for those who wanted to go SB I-35 anyway.)
- Brian

Great suggestion, Brian. The reason we don't suggest that route ourselves is, by department policy, we try very hard to recommend only routes that involve state-maintained roads. Probandt and Theo are both owned, operated and maintained by the city of San Antonio. We try to avoid a route that would put undue wear and tear on a city facility.

All that said, the route is extremely viable, and folks can use it as much as they like!

Could you please tell me what the ETA is for completing the north-to-south turnaround at the intersection of I-35 and Rittiman?
- Zach

It was really hard for us to get a definitive answer on this one! The turnaround is closed to provide work space on the expansion of the Rittiman Road overpass bridge. That work has been impacted by materials availability and weather the last few weeks, but it's moving forward well enough.

At any rate, the short answer is "end of summer". We'll have those turnarounds reopened (hopefully) by the end of the summer. We may need to do periodic closures afterward, but you can look forward to having the turnarounds back to use before school starts back up.

Why do you only hang bridge beams during the day?
- Brian

Last weekend we had a full closure of Braun Road while crews hung beams over the road as part of the construction of an overpass for Loop 1604. A few months ago we shut down I-10 during the weekend to set bridge support beams. We did the same thing in September last year. We also had U.S. 281 shut down over a weekend in April to hang beams. We got I-35 a year ago.

While there are a few exceptions (the DeZavala closure being one), you'll notice these bridge beam closures are typically done during the day. There's a reason for that, and that's what you're really looking for.

First of all, the closure is absolutely necessary. That's not really something folks will question. When we're setting beams, we can't have anything or anyone beneath the beam. That'd just be asking for bad things.

But why daytime? The answer is in the availability of the beams themselves. Over sized loads are often restricted to traveling during certain hours, and our beams are typically unable to move at night - they've got to do so during the day. In some instances, these beams are coming from some distance across the state. Closures begin about 45 minutes prior to the beams arriving on site, allowing crews time to adequately set up the closure and the work area (sometimes we'll set the closure earlier so we can have the cranes in place before the trucks arrive).

In all cases, we minimize the time of the closure. We always ask: When is the latest time we can close the road without delaying the work needed?

So, if we can only transport beams during the day, why not just stage the beams in the evening and set beams overnight? We actually do when we can. That's what happened when we shut down DeZavala Road last year, and when we closed U.S. 281 to hang Wurzbach Parkway overpass over a year ago. Well, that closure lasted through a weekend, but we started off on a Friday night.

The trouble with this is space. We've got to have the room to stage the beams. There's also an issue of cost - those trucks are sitting, costing money as they sit when they sit. Their drivers don't sit for free, either. Some projects simply don't allow the space for us to stage beams. When we did the overnight work on U.S. 281 at Wurzbach, we closed a single lane of northbound 281 in the afternoon to stage the trucks. When we did the work on DeZavala, we used the frontage road of I-10 as a staging area and closed a lane there as well. We don't always have that space, so we can't pre-stage those beams. Remember: we can't haul during the dark, so we must stage on-site.

Finally (and most important), there's a safety issue. Any work - ANY work - is done more safely during the daytime than it is at night. When and if we can ever err, we always do so on the side of safety.

So that's why we hang beams during the day - availability of materials, cost, space constraints and safety.