Highway headaches to continue through summer
By LPR Staff
Patience is a virtue. Lately, local drivers have been less than virtuous, as the major construction project on Highway 183 through Lockhart has snarled traffic and inconvenienced commuters with a promise of better things on the horizon.
“There are a lot of challenges that we weren’t sure we wer
e going to have to face,” City Manager Vance Rodgers said of the sweeping project, approved by a Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) grant in 2012. “When you’re trying to work with all of the utilities to relocate the utilities, and install the drainage systems there are just a lot of moving parts to the project.”
The expansion, which will make Highway 183 two lanes in each direction, with a turning lane and sidewalks from Brazos Street to Chisholm Trail Lane (the Wal-Mart SuperCenter), promises to increase mobility and ease traffic issues through Lockhart upon its completion. In the meantime, however, clashes with TxDOT and construction schedules marred by wet weather have been creating chaos for local drivers and business owners.
“Initially, they were planning to finish the project from Pecan Street to Hickory Street when they finished paving the rest of the first phase,” Rodgers said. “I convinced them to finish that part, because our city leadership had to show the people something.”
He said mounting frustration among drivers and business owners threatened to add new levels of complication to an already complicated project.
For the most part, the City and the State have been able to move forward with the project without any takings, meaning no property has been seized that was not already public right-of-way. However, TxDOT rules regarding driveways and street access have added an additional layer of negotiations to the project.
“The business owners have been understanding and have worked with us, in general,” Rodgers said. “There are a few parking lots that have had to be redesigned and some parts of the construction that are going to change the way some businesses have forced to operate.”
Chief among the changes locals have already noticed, Mr. Taco had to re-evaluate the restaurant’s drive-thru service, which had historically been owned in the state-owned right-of-way. It appears, according to Rodgers, that Chisholm Trail Bar-B-Q will have to do the same. He said he and City Planner Dan Gibson, along with TxDOT engineers have been discussing the matter with the business owners, and would be able to assess, during the second phase of the highway project, the best option for maintaining the drive-thru access while working toward the highway renovation project.
“One of the things that’s making this project so complicated is the fact that we have 80 feet two work with, and we’re going to have five lanes of traffic, two eight-foot sidewalks, along with water, cable, sewer, electricity and phone lines,” he said. “And what we learned, in the early phases of the project, is that there are more utilities on the east side of the highway than there are on the west. That knowledge is going to help us, when we get into Phase B.”
Currently, crews are working between Hickory and Blackjack Streets, on the west side of Highway 183. Conduits are being installed for the underground sewer drainage and utilities. Once the conduits are installed, sidewalks will be installed to match the east side of the highway.
Each of the sidewalks are being constructed with counter-weights that look like small retaining walls. Those counterweights, Rodgers said, will allow the cement to cure in a balanced way that will help prevent sidewalk and curb collapses in the future.
The lion’s share of the City’s spending in regards to the project has been in the relocation of utilities. Apart from giving the project a more streamlined look, the location of the utilities to the underground conduits will help the city improve on infrastructure in the future.
“We went from 113 aerial crossings to 16,” he said. “And while we did install more poles, those will support larger power lines, to support the growing demand on the west side of town.”
If the weather holds, Rodgers said, TxDOT plans to have the first phase of the project completed within the next 8-10 weeks. However, construction will immediately move south to Phase B, from Blackjack Street south.
“I’m afraid our drivers aren’t going to get much relief in that way,” he said. “We are already trying to figure out the engineering and the drainage on the second phase of the project and they are going to start that right away.”
Rodgers said the main complication in the second phase of the project involves the details of managing rainwater and runoff.
“We all know that area floods, and what we want to make sure that we’re doing is managing that runoff so that we don’t flood out people that are downstream,” he said. Part of that plan is the installation of “interceptor ditches,” which will be located in areas outside the main project area, which will divert rain waters away from the highway, and out of their original flow patterns.
“By using these ditches and splitting up that flow, we will be able to redirect that water, so that we can install the sewer lines that will support the flow of the runoff.”
Completion of the Highway 183 project is expected to take, at minimum, another 15 months, he said.
Meanwhile, Lockhart drivers should be on the lookout for additional TxDOT work along Highway 142.
In a project began last week, TxDOT will be removing and replacing sidewalk corners on several intersections between Highway 183 and Medina Street, beginning on the Caldwell County Square last week.
“A lot of those sidewalk access points are not up to code for ADA compliance,” Rodgers said. “We know that what they’re doing is improving those sidewalks to make them compliant, which means they have to have ‘double access’ as well as the sidewalk bumps for the blind.”
Rodgers was able to provide little other information about the project.
“We knew that it was coming, but we didn’t know when they were going to start it,” he said. “The City of Lockhart had asked them to notify us of their timeline, because there are some issues that they weren’t aware of. If I had my choice, I would have asked them to wait until after Chisholm Trail.”
It is unclear whether the construction project will still be under way as San Antonio Street is used for the route for the Chisholm Trail Grand Parade on the second weekend of June.