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Travis County bond program prepares for more construction, identifies improvements

By March 3, 2020October 1st, 2020No Comments
By Emma Freer
Originally published at communityimpact.com

Travis County’s five-year, 60-project bond program, which voters approved in 2017, is mostly on track to be completed by 2022, with many projects nearing construction and seven completed, according to a March 3 presentation made to the Commissioners Court.

An additional 44 projects are in active development and one—on South Pleasant Valley Road—has been put on hold, due to a conflict with a nearby landfill’s future expansion. Staff are working with the landfill and nearby property owners to discuss options.

Since the last quarterly update, in December, the county has approved three construction contracts and seven design contracts, initiated the procurement process on two construction projects and completed one construction project.

County staff estimate that a majority of the work during the first half of this year will remain focused on design, right of way acquisitions and utility relocations.

Because of the scope of the bond program—the largest ever undertaken by the county—it is overseen by an outside consultant firm, Front Line Advisory Group, rather than by county staff directly.

Front Line owner Jessy Milner told commissioners construction spending will increase later this year as more projects move out of the design phase.

Milner added that a series of improvements have been identified to support the program’s completion on deadline.

Because many projects require substantial utility relocation, staff has implemented a utility coordinator to serve as a point of contact between the county and outside utility providers and to minimize construction delays.

“You’ve got one person to hold them accountable … and so we think from an industry perspective it’s been well-received,” Public Works Director Morgan Cotten said. “We think from our side it’s taken what could be a big elephant in the room … and brought it down to manageable-sized bits that we can go at and keep it moving forward.”

Similarly, staff has identified substantial right of way acquisition needs and is working with the county’s real estate division to prioritize schedules and workloads moving forward.

Staff has also established a “sneak peek” feature on the county’s website that allows contractors more time to familiarize themselves with projects, prepare bids and manage workloads, ideally leading to more bids and possibly more competitive prices.

Previous improvements include partnering with the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority on eight of the bond program projects and hiring an independent drainage consultant to help save money and time on flood plain reviews required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Nearly all of the projects in the program are on schedule to be completed by December 2022.

We’re all there every day trying to compress that schedule”

— Jessy Milner, Front Line Advisory Group

Additional challenges include fluctuations in construction costs, new flood plain standards adopted by the Commissioners Court and securing right of way acquisitions—which can require the right to eminent domain—for those projects that require them.

“Big kudos to staff but also big kudos to the private sector who came in and positively influenced our processes,” County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said.