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Tuesday, May 17

Lp 1604: open, but not yet done

Last week we ceremoniously opened the northbound lanes of Loop 1604. The work to make that happen was pretty hectic, and we tipped the ol' cap to the folks with Williams Brothers in our blog post last week who worked nearly around-the-clock to get the road (mostly) ready for Thursday's opening.
At the time we readily fessed up to the need to finish quite a bit of work. Notably, we still had (and still have!) some major items left to do. That includes paving work, which shut down the northbound main lanes between Braun and Bandera roads Saturday morning and left the northbound entrance ramps from Braun shut down into this week.
These closures have led to a range of responses. Some chose to create their own entrance ramps, cutting through the median to get onto the main lanes. This little maneuver is frustratingly illegal and incredibly dangerous (not to mention really rude to literally everyone involved). Others called us, emailed us or tweeted us about the issue. Some have been pretty frustrated about the amount of their Saturday that was wrecked by the slog of traffic through the short stretch, citing travel times topping a half-hour to run the 1.4-mile length. It's a tough situation that's turned a story that just two days prior was garnering overwhelming thanks from folks in the area into a subject of frustration.
Look, we get it. Some of us got caught in the traffic as well. After all we haven't quite completed our own TxDOT-only underground network of roads to miss these kinds of closures. When you're stuck in traffic, we're stuck in traffic. What's done is done, but the need for an explanation here is real.

Saturday morning main lanes
The Saturday morning closure was remnant of what was getting done overnight. With the weekend upon us and decent weather through the morning, Williams Brothers tried to take advantage of their limited window of opportunity to finish asphalt work on the main lanes. Their efforts were successful, and they were able to open things up just before noon to keep that northbound traffic flowing on the main lanes.

The on-ramp from Braun
Like those northbound main lanes, WB was working to fit inside a narrow window of opportunity to lay asphalt. We need to lay that final surface to properly blend that ramp in with the main lanes (blending with the frontage road will come later). Well, rain came through before that could all get done and the lips remaining on the ramp made the ramp unsuitable to open up.
Well, our folks are still waiting for a clear window of opportunity to lay that asphalt to get the ramp open. Here's the rub: It's not just the ground that's wet at this point. The asphalt stockpiles WB has been drawing from to pave this stretch became saturated with water. New stockpiles needed to be made.
That said the ramp was our top priority for our crews - and WB delivered by opening the new ramp up by about 4:30 this afternoon.

So why open the road if it's not fully ready?
With all this work remaining, did we open this roadway up prematurely? To be frank, we don't think so. Though we don't have a scientific survey to back this notion up, we feel most folks would prefer to have use - even limited use - of a roadway facility that's nearly finished than to have no use of a facility that seems to be complete. Were we to keep these new main lanes closed for now, how many people currently reaching out to lodge complaints about the closures would be similarly lodging complaints about not having the road open?
We get that sort of response all the time, actually. If we've got a smooth-looking road down, guardrail seemingly in place, maybe some striping and a sign or two the road must be ready to open, right? But what of the transitional areas where the new road meets the old? What if the mow strip - that concrete strip under the guardrail that makes our mowing job easier - is finished? Or all the overhead highway signs, which require full closures to mount?
There are a lot of little things that often go unseen by folks simply driving through a work zone. What you're seeing at this point are the effects of needing to these smaller work items in a safe environment - closures, closures and more closures. And we're not done, either - we've got a slew of closures impacting the whole project, between Culebra and Bandera roads, posted last week. We stand behind our belief you'd rather have these main lanes opened for use most of the day and deal with occasional closures (that are admittedly annoying) than not have them at all and look at what seems like a near-finished product while you're sitting in traffic.

What to expect
Though we lined this out last week, a little repetition can't hurt. The key message here is we still have a lot of work to do on this project. Williams Brothers is eyeing a mid-June overall completion, meaning we're 4-6 weeks from being free from orange barrels along Lp 1604 between Bandera and Culebra roads.
Wait, strike that. Some construction zone signs will actually continue until all the paperwork on the project is finished and we "purchase" the project from WB. That can take a little while as accountants, auditors and the legal folks look through all the contracts to make sure everyone did what they said they'd do.
But the closures ... the closures will be non-existent for us - but not until late next month. The contract for this project requires WB to keep a minimum of two lanes of Lp 1604 open in each direction at all times during the morning. That includes the new express lanes, which means (for the purposes of planning closures) Lp 1604 now has 4-5 lanes in each direction (2 express lanes plus 2 or 3 lanes on the frontage road).
What does this mean? Simply put, it means during the day WB can now squeeze the frontage roads to a single lane - if needed - during the day. It means we may still have a full closure of the main lanes (though that's really something we'll keep to nights and weekends).
At the risk of being repetitively redundant, here's a recap of what we've got left:
  • Overnight and weekend closures - even full closures of the expressway lanes - will be employed periodically over the next four weeks to lay asphalt and install remaining barrier.
  • There's a lot of work left on the frontage roads, and you'll likely see more daytime closures there to take care of concrete work on curbs and sidewalks.
  • The finished project will have a sweet paint job to keep the road from being to boring. That means painters will need occasional closures to do their thing.
  • A few overhead signs still need installed, some electrical work remains and we have that center cable median barrier to finish up. Almost all this will require overnight closures.
  • The frontage roads will need to get a final layer of asphalt and final paint. This means the folks using Braun Road will finally get that optional thru/left lane they've been asking for over the last year ... but it's still a few weeks from being done.
Again ... we're not yet done with the project. That comes in 4-6 weeks. For now, we're mostly done and you're enjoying the good stuff while we're not fine-tuning things!
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