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Thursday, March 26, 2015 by Courtney Griffin

MoPac Boulevard project completion delayed

Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority officials announced Wednesday that a fully operational MoPac Boulevard may not happen until the end of the year. While the announcement currently delays construction only three-and-a-half months, officials said they were not confident they could complete the work even then.

“We had a completion date — Sept. 17, 2015 — but the contracts move it 101 days, so we’re at the end of December now,” said Paul Petrich, CTRMA’s project manager, to board members at their regular meeting.

Officials awarded the project contract, originally budgeted at $204 million, to CH2M Hill to design and build express lanes on north MoPac from Cesar Chavez Street to Parmer Lane for $136 million.

This portion of CTRMA’s MoPac Improvement Project is separate from the proposal to add express lanes in the south. The northern project was set for completion this fall, but officials decided to approve change orders and push the date, said Petrich.

The change orders for the design contract include regular repair and maintenance to the roadway, such as pavement, retaining walls and structural support repairs. The routine maintenance is easier to address while MoPac is already under construction and will be included in the project’s budget, said Steve Pustelnyk, CTRMA’s director of communications.

However, officials could push back the project’s completion date even further because of construction and paving complications, Petrich said.

“We have a high level of confidence that the (maintenance) work can be done in that time, but for reasons we will discuss with you here shortly, we don’t have as high a level of confidence that substantial completion can be completed by that date,” he said.

Potential causes for further delay involve the relaying of critical water and drainage pipes and the road’s permeable friction course overlay — a layer of porous asphalt that reduces runoff pollutants, sound and roadway slickness, Pustelnyk said.

“Because of the permeable friction paving we are putting on, it’s more sensitive to colder temperatures than normal asphalt,” Petrich said. “So if there is a slight delay in some of the activities that lead up to paving, as we get toward the end of the year when the project is finishing, it could be the weather is not conducive enough to lay that paving.”

The repositioning of water lines under the pavement between RM 2222 and Enfield Road and installation of drainage pipes may cause other kinks, because both must be completed before work on roadway undercrosses near Cesar Chavez Street can begin, Petrich said.

Out of four tunnels for water lines, one remains uncompleted, but they are “encountering a little bit of difficulty with the progress” because workers are hitting rock, Petrich said. He added that any delay with its completion can affect the whole project.

Workers can begin construction on the undercrossings after the last tunnel and drainage pipe installations are complete.

“The reason (undercrossings) are becoming critical is because of the work necessary to get to construct those undercrossings,” Petrich said. “Those undercrossings are needed to get the traffic to and from the express lane and onto those downtown exits.”

The board of directors asked Petrich if CTMRA had a clear communication strategy for addressing the news of the delay. Board Director David Armbrust said that he expected a more detailed presentation from staff.

Staff did not go over change order details at the meeting, and board members requested that contractors be made a part of the monthly briefing.

“This board would like to see itemized detail on what we are adding to the project, especially if it’s enhancements,” said Chair Ray Wilkerson. “Because I think the public needs to know why and what they’re getting for that time delay.

“And, you know I don’t particularly want to see speculation for what the weather is going to be,” Wilkerson continued. “I’d rather see what the plan is, and we’ll deal accordingly as we go. I don’t want to plant in the mind of the public today that we’re going to add four months and we’re going to open this in spring, and that’s what I heard you just say.”

CH2M Hill began design work in April 2013 and broke ground later that year.

Photo courtesy of the MoPac Improvement Project website

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority: The governing arm of Central Texas transportation. The board of directors is appointed by the governor and the Travis and Williamson County Commissioners Court. 1.5 stars on Yelp.

MoPac: Texas State Highway Loop 1 is also known as "MoPac" after the Missouri Pacific Railroad it was built on. The scenic highway runs from the beginning of the State Highway 45 to US 183.

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