Cracking sound walls for MoPac delay installation until next summer

MoPac sound wall (KXAN Photo)
MoPac sound wall (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The express lanes are open on MoPac Expressway, but not all the work is done. About seven miles of sound walls are in construction limbo. This past spring, a design issue was found with some of the precast sound walls.

Cracks were forming along some of the bottom panels. An independent engineering study was done to determine the cause of the issue. While the study was underway all sound wall installation was stopped, this was in February.

Unfortunately, for property owners along MoPac this means more delayed sound walls.

Joe Pieczynski says he may be able to travel MoPac faster, but with no sound walls blocking the speed of sound, it’s a bit noisy. “It’s not done, it stopped about five blocks away from my house and it’s just been sitting there for the last six months.”

Steve Pustelnyk with the Mopac Improvement Project says about half of the sound walls still need to be built, but before that happens some of the existing sound walls need to be modified. About 70 sound panels  will need to be pulled out and replaced because of the cracking on the bottom half.

“From a maintenance standpoint we want to make sure the walls put in are built to specification are going to last for a lifetime.”

To guarantee a lifetime of solid work, the cracking sound walls will be re-enforced with steel brackets and bearing pads that add stability and relieve some of the pressure that is causing panels to crack in the first place, but that won’t be finished until next summer.

“We would of liked to have everything done all at once, the sound walls were something that could wait until after we got the roadway open,” says Pustelnyk. “We certainly regret that the walls have not gone up as quickly as we hoped. We know it’s an inconvenience for residents who don’t have their walls up.”

Crews have removed some of the cracking panels, but modifying and retrofitting the sound walls is a challenge.

“A lot of these walls are very close to the property lines, there are utilities below ground and above ground,” explains Pustelnyk. “This has been a delicate process given the close proximity to the homes, the plethora of utilities around these walls and the challenges of getting equipment into tight spaces to drill the holes for the foundations.”

Piecynski says he’s ready for the final product. “Having a nice solid, high concrete wall is going to be pretty pleasing from the back door.”

With the overall project being about two years behind schedule and the construction of modifications anticipated to start in December, Pustelnyk says that the additional work on the sound walls will not cost extra.

“As part of the settlement agreement the contractor has to have these walls done by June of 2018, there are no additional costs associated with any of the work going on now. The work going on now was a part of the original contract,” he continued.

“Any adjustments being made to the wall are purely because the contractor has to build the walls to specifications, so there will be no additional cost with any of the modifications to the sound walls.”

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