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Work on Fifth Street to continue through SXSW

Monday, February 23, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

Utility construction on Fifth Street will continue through South by Southwest, despite plans to the contrary.

On Friday, Public Works Department Director Howard Lazarus sent a memo to city staff explaining the situation. Though work on the Fifth Street chilled water line was scheduled to conclude by the end of February, the discovery that welds were incorrectly approved means the project will continue for several more months.

“While we had planned for the work be complete before SXSW, the faulty welds make that impossible,” wrote Lazarus. “The project team is working with the local businesses to accommodate access and minimize disruption to SXSW activities to the extent possible. We have identified ways to provide guided pedestrian access and vehicle access when needed. We have also worked to reduce visual clutter, minimize the size of the work areas and reduce the height of some barricades in order to maintain the visibility of the nearby entertainment venues.”

The project was executed in a manner intended to minimize disruption to Fifth Street. But even the minimally disruptive technique requires three access shafts. Two, which are about 11 feet by 13 feet, are located near the intersection of Fifth Street and Red River Street. Another larger shaft is located near the intersection of Fifth and Trinity streets. That hole is about 18 feet by 28 feet.

None of the shafts can be filled until the project is complete.

As for the project itself, Lazarus said that a plan to address the problems was still being developed, and further analysis is needed before the path forward is established.

The project, which began this second phase of construction in June 2014, includes two 30-inch Austin Energy water lines that are located in an 8-foot-diameter tunnel. It is an extension of the city’s chilled water system used to cool downtown buildings. The faulty welds are along the connections of water line segments.

“The deficiencies are caused by faulty construction and were approved in error by a private inspection firm hired by the city to inspect the welds,” wrote Lazarus. “Although the full extent of the damage to the city is not yet quantified, both the contractor and the private inspection firm will be held accountable.”

Photo:”Heatpipe tunnel copenhagen 2009” by Bill Ebbesen – Transferred from en.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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