Pain before relief, with South Congress construction

AUSTIN (KXAN) — If Austin decides to put big money down on city street construction, commuters could be in for years of pain before feeling the relief of better roads.

A case in point may be the ongoing—or dragging, if you ask nearby businesses—road-widening project on South Congress Avenue.

Though still within budget, according to Texas Department of Transportation officials, the South Congress project is more than six months overdue.

And it’s been difficult on local businesses and their owners, like Meranda Tillmon, owner of Billie Jean’s Burger Pub. Yes, the project is needed and will improve traffic, but it’s tough on businesses in the meantime, she said.

“It absolutely affects business,” said Tillmon. “A lot of people don’t want to come to this area because of the construction.”

Billie Jean’s is located at 6501 S. Congress Ave., near the intersection of William Cannon Drive. It was one of the first businesses to move into a new shopping center at that location.

The Texas Department of Transportation is in charge of the job, not the city of Austin.

Payments on S. Congress project:

  • $5,358,577  – Construction
  • $479,381     – Project Engineering
  • $249,683     – Construction Engineering

Source: Texas Department of Transportation

As of June 24, S. Congress had just a single lane open in either direction between Eberhardt Lane and William Cannon. Southbound traffic commonly backs up nearly a quarter mile at William Cannon.

Mike Tate, a manager at the Sherwin-Williams paint store across S. Congress from the burger pub, appeared hopeful about the project, despite rain delays.

“It will be great, when they finish,” Tate said. “They are doing the best that they can.”

TxDOT spokesperson Kelli Reyna said extreme weather and unexpected utility, water and wastewater line issues have lengthened construction.

“These issues have since been resolved, and we’re working to complete the project as soon as possible,” Reyna said in an email. “We appreciate the public’s patience as we strive to improve mobility and safety in this area for all roadway users.”

The S. Congress project extends from Foremost Drive to Eberhart Lane. TxDOT is installing six-foot sidewalks, five-foot bike lanes and a continuous center turn lane. TxDOT awarded $6.3 million for the project, and it is still under budget, Reyna said.

TxDOT’s online “project tracker” system says construction costs to date on S. Congress currently total $8,950,654. However, Reyna said that amount is wrong, and the financial information in the project tracker’s table is currently incorrect due to an issue with the software.

Reyna said the project is anticipated to finish this summer. It was originally slated for completion in November 2015.

Austin’s bond proposition

On Thursday, Austin City Council narrowly approved moving forward with a $720 million “mobility bond” package aimed at road construction. Voters will weigh in on the proposition in November.

The details aren’t yet set in stone, but officials said the bond money would be used on some of the city’s most heavily traveled streets: Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Lamar Boulevard, Airport Boulevard and Burnet Road.

City spokesperson Cheyenne Krause said Austin takes numerous measures to lessen the impact of construction on local businesses.

If a project is within the “downtown project coordination zone” contractors are required to provide notification to businesses adjacent to construction.

The city also works with contractors to provide signage to help reroute car and pedestrian traffic. In addition, the city encourages contractors to reach out to businesses that could be affected by construction and also work outside rush hours to reduce the impact on commuters, Krause added.

“With all construction, there is a little pain,” Krause said. But “we have to do improvements and resurface streets.”

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