The Allandale Storm Drain Project is dragging on and neighbors are upset. They want it finished. The City knows it and is working on a plan to double efforts to complete it as soon as possible.
On Thursday night, Novemer 30, the City of Austin Public Works Department held a public information meeting at the Northwest Recreation Center on the project. The room was packed with Allandale residents and city staff. The City brought over 20 staff, including EMS and the Fire Department representatives, for the meeting. Barbara Rush from Council Member Laura Morrison's office was there as well.
A bit of background. The first problem with the project was the length of time it took to come up with a plan. Streets and homes were being flooded and it took from 2007 until 2011 before the project was started. We will be well into 2012 before the project is completed. The initial plan, announced in 2007, was to construct a storm drain system under White Rock Drive, from Shoalwood Avenue to Shoal Creek. The project was to start January 2008 and be completed in five months. That plan was abandoned once a consultant's report concluded that approach could increase flooding for properties along Shoal Creek. The city came back with the revised plan in 2009; that plan was approved and scheduled for 2011. The project kickoff meeting with the neighborhood occurred November 29, 2010, and construction started January 2011.
So far, the project has exceeded its budget seven different times for things like extra signs, additional water line work, paving, and more. The most recent request was for $223,607 to cover the costs of replacing nearly two miles of curb along the roads where the drainage work has occurred. It is hard to believe this was not considered in the original plan.
Howard Lazarus, Director of the Public Works Department, started Thursday night's meeting by acknowledging neighbors' frustrations. The original timeline was one year. It is going to go well beyond a year, and the big question was how much longer? Lazarus acknowledged that if he had to do it all over again it would have done some things differently. The project includes installation of a storm drain pipe down Bull Creek Road, Nasco Drive and White Horse Trail. It also includes the construction of curbside inlets on various streets and two outfalls on Shoal Creek: one near the intersection of Bull Creek Road and Shoal Creek Boulevard and one near the intersection of Rickey and Bullard Drives. Along the way, however, the project expanded to include replacement of water and wastewater lines as well as the curbs along parts of the route. These additions are clearly needed, but unfortunately were not included in the original plan.
The city is currently working with the contractor on a schedule to speed up the work – to get it completed in April as opposed to June or July. They hope to achieve this by splitting up the reconstruction/repavement of the streets into two project sections and reconstructing them simultaneously.
Getting the project done sooner is welcomed; however, neighbors at the meeting want to know the specifics. As the meeting proceeded a number of issues, concerns, and frustrations came up. There was tension in the room. I could see one man's lips quiver as he questioned the contractor's (Texas Sterling's) experience with similar projects. “How could they not know they were going to encounter rock when digging the trench for the culverts?”
The demand for specifics was symptomatic of the resident's frustration. The message was: “tell us what you are going to do and when you are going to do it,” with the clear implication that they were going to be held to it.
Communication on the project has been lacking. The weekly updates that are sent electronically to an email list and are posted to the neighborhood ListServ and website don’t get to all of the people on the streets where the work is being done. Also, the information provided doesn't give enough detail like when machinery is going to be parked in front of a resident's driveway.
Other frustrations conveyed at the meeting had to do with construction debris in people's yards, installation of a 20'x40' monster inlet in a neighbor's front yard, concern that Fire and EMS are not being kept informed of project status in the event of an emergency, what the maintenance schedule is going to be on the drainage system, compensation for damage done to property like a cracked sidewalk, handling garbage pickup when the road is closed off, and more.
The city will be following up with notes from the meeting, including answers to people's questions. We will continue to post what we know to the list serve and the website. Click here for the latest project update/fact sheet handed out at Thursday's meeting.