Wednesday, May 11

Temporary closure on I-35 through afternoon, evening

US: When you're driving home from downtown this evening, and you're taking northbound I-35, the right lane leading to the split that goes into I-37 and U.S. 281 will be closed. All northbound I-35 traffic to I-37 or U.S. 281 will be pared down to a single lane, which will be able to split to the appropriate ramps just before reaching the interchange. Here's a picture of the area we're talking about, just to make sure we're clear as mud:

YOU: Wow. That's a huge bummer - and I'm really downplaying this. What in tarnation would make you want to do such a thing?

US: Well, it's like this. Last night's storm knocked out our asphalt production plants feeding a mill and overlay project on northbound I-35 leading to the I-37 and U.S. 281 interchange.

YOU: Waitasec, can you translate that?!?

US: Sure The lighting storm last night shut down power to a plant that mixes rock and tar and oil to make asphalt - that's a batch plant - making asphalt for a project on northbound I-35. The project is a resurface job, where we mill or shave off about two inches of existing asphalt and replace it with new stuff from the batch plant. Thing is, crews were able to mill but not replace because the plant went down.

YOU: Ok....

US: So now we've got a section about 600 feet long - that's two football fields, since we are in Texas - that's got a two-inch lip. We're worried that lip creates a safety hazard. Heck, we've already gotten a few phone calls about the issue today.

YOU: So why didn't y'all take care of that lip last night?

US: We tried to. We took some leftover asphalt from the work we were able to do and tried to make a little "ramp" to soften the edge. Unfortunately, that asphalt left a really rough driving surface and didn't fix that hard edge on the sides. Basically, lane changes would be a huge booger and we are trying to avoid major issues.

YOU: So now my commute for the evening will be shot ... that's not very nice, TxDOT! Will you at least have it back open for my drive tomorrow?

US: That's the plan - and we really are sorry. Our primary concern here is safety, but we're mindful of just how big a mess this might be. We'll have crews out there tonight trying to fix the problem. We have a few different scenarios that could play out tonight, but the important thing for you to know is our priority is to have this 600-foot stretch safely reopened by morning.

YOU: OK, so let's just make sure I've got all this cleared up. If I'm headed north on the upper level I-35 lanes that lead to I-37 or U.S. 281, I'll only have one lane to run through as I go over North St. Mary's Street. Because of that, I should plan to see my commute take a little extra and maybe even plan a different route home. Does that about cover it?

US: Yup. Well, that and if you're coming from Brooklyn or McCullough avenues that on-ramp will be closed. We know that will really stink up how traffic moves through downtown, but it needs to be done.

YOU: Wow. Well, it's only for one evening, correct?

US: That's the plan. We should have it back up and running to normal by the morning. Our crews won't be able to start until later tonight, but they're committed to getting this back open for you.

YOU: And it won't impact thru traffic on I-35?

US: For the most part, no. This is only those two lanes heading into I-37 and U.S. 281. The three thru lanes for northbound I-35 won't be touched.

YOU: Well, alright. I suppose I can tough through this for one night. I am a Spurs fan, after all. I can power through a little adversity and prevail!

US: Thanks for understanding - and for persevering. Go Spurs Go!


(Three hours later)

YOU: What the heck, TxDOT?!? You said you'd only have one lane closed! I just looked, and you have the whole upper deck of northbound I-35 closed - including the ramp from eastbound I-10 to northbound I-35! What happened?

US: First of all, we're as frustrated with the situation as you are. When we outline a plan, we like to know that's the plan that happens. Obviously shutting down one of the biggest intersections of the seventh-largest city in America during rush hour was not our plan.

YOU: So what did happen? I need answers here!

US: No excuses: we messed up. When the work order was given to our contractor on this at about 3 p.m., the message of the closure details was not effectively relayed. When traffic control crews began setting up the closure they did so for the nighttime closure that's typically out there from 9 p.m. until 5 a.m. each week. When we got wind of what was happening the paving crews were already arriving on site and asphalt was on its way.

YOU: Why didn't you stop this from happening?

US: Quite frankly, we had one guy out there and he thought what was being set up was what we had outlined. This was a communication breakdown on a few different levels, and we own that. That said, we're currently (at 6:30 p.m.) removing the closure and shutting down the asphalt work that's going on. Our initial plan should be in place just after 7 as we get that stuff corrected. The more major closure will be back up after 9 p.m. to allow paving to continue as needed.

YOU: Alright - you've owned the mistake. That's fair. How are you going to prevent this from happening again?

US: That's the exact question we're asking ourselves right now, and our leadership teams will take a look at what all happened and discover where our communication breakdown occurred. We take this kind of thing very seriously, and we'll make sure we don't have these gaffes again. We simply can't - we need to be better than that. We are human here, we make mistakes; but as a collective body we should be able to learn from the event.

YOU: Well, thanks for talking to me about it. I'm not sure there's a silver lining to be found in all this, but thanks for hashing all this out.

US: No problem. Thanks for being patient with us!