TxDOT officially pulls 281 contract; vows to re-bid it once environmental studies complete

Read about it in the Express-News. Or see article below after TxDOT press release.

This is the next step in TxDOT acknowledging the inevitable on the 281 project. Their incompetence has caused a significant delay and there’s no purpose in paying Zachry “stand-by fees” until the studies are complete, so they pulled the contract. It’s what they should have done in January when the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) pulled the environmental clearance for 281 due to TxDOT’s failure to follow federal law and conduct an extensive environmental impact statement (EIS) (Read about it here). Instead, they submitted only a cursory environmental assessment (EA) that tries to claim that adding 10 lanes of pavement over the aquifer recharge zone, the sole source of drinking water for 1.7 million people, had no significant impact!

Just ask the residents of a subdivision at Borgfeld and 281 how the 1,000 gallon gasoline spill in 1999 still requires them to use a commercial grade water filter due to the inital contamination and exposure to leukemia-causing benzene and the continuing risk of contamination for the next 20 years! And that’s before TxDOT tries to add 10 more lanes thereby increasing that risk tenfold from what it already is today. Let’s not forget that the same Zachry Construction was also responsible for a raw sewage spill that leaked into the aquifer for 4 weeks before it was reported just this last December (Read article here).

TxDOT’s press release (note it was released late on a Friday afternoon, the day and time the public least tunes into news) was just as defiant as we’ve come to expect stating it’s tolls or no-build…nothing in between. In TxDOT’s world, it’s their way or NO HIGHWAY! Federal law requires them to look at alternatives, not build versus no-build, and it requires them to consider the most cost-effective and least invasive to the natural AND human environment. The impact of adding the burden of an extra toll tax to the already skyrocketing cost of transportation on consumers and businesses alike has not been studied or even on TxDOT’s radar screen.

To them, the new purpose of the improvements is to generate revenue, not bring the much needed congestion relief they’ve promised since the late 1990’s and had funded since 2004. The original inprovement plan for 281 (See it here) would add 6 lanes, as a tollway, 10 lanes! The original cost, $48 million, as a tollway $83 million! Bill Barker, transportation planner and consultant, has an alternative that doesn’t require frontage roads at all, and yet still provides access to local businesses. So there are alternatives that would add perhaps as few as 2 lanes and be much more cost effective!

***STILL NEED HUGE TURN OUT AT TXDOT PUBLIC MEETINGS MARCH 29 & 30! ***
Will TxDOT listen…you be the judge! But our job now is to get these alternatives on the record in the public meetings next week (Find out time and location here) to FORCE TxDOT to implement non-toll alternatives when they go to the FHA to get clearance again. We need everyone to turn out for these very important public meetings to get the public opposition ON RECORD. I’m suspicious of the timing of this announcement by TxDOT and the fact that they did it as a press release. That seems to indicate they may be trying to make people think the toll roads are off the table to suppress turn out at these meetings in favor of the highway lobby falsely inflating support for toll roads when they try to sign a new contract this summer (See highway lobby’s memo to members to turn out to push tolls).

TxDOT refuses to take responsibility for their incompetence, refuses to own up to the fact that it’s THEIR FAULT this project is delayed due to their failure to follow FEDERAL LAW, and failure to install the ORIGINAL FUNDED plan two years ago. Predictably, TxDOT is now attempting to blame the delay on the lawsuit and resorting to their usual scare tactics making people think the fix is 5-10 years off! TxDOT should have immediately begun a full environmental impact statement (EIS) as soon as the FHA pulled their clearance. Instead, they stubbornly continue on this path of biting around the edges of the law without actually following it. The attorneys have vowed to sue them until they do a full EIS! So what could have been an 18 mo.-2 year delay may unnecesarily turn into an even longer one due to TxDOT’s arrogance and refusal to follow the law.

TXDOT PRESS RELEASE ON PULLING ZACHRY CONTRACT ON 281:

SAN ANTONIO – The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has elected to
cancel the existing construction contract on US 281 from near Loop 1604 to
Stone Oak Parkway pending the outcome of additional environmental studies.

Zachry Construction Corporation of San Antonio was awarded the contract last
fall and work began to construct a mobility and safety project on US 281 for
$84 million, including joint bid utility work. The project includes
upgrading US 281 to an expressway configuration with additional toll express
lanes and parallel non-toll lanes as identified in the Metropolitan Planning
Organization’s Metropolitan Transportation Plan, “Mobility 2030”.

In response to a lawsuit filed by two groups opposed to the project, TxDOT
will re-open previous environmental studies on the US 281 corridor.
Previous studies conducted in 1984, 2000, 2004 and 2005 will be re-assessed
and combined with any new data collected into a single environmental
document for this corridor, from Loop 1604 to Borgfeld Road. TxDOT has
secured a consultant to re-evaluate the corridor. The consultant contract
for this additional work is approximately $800,000.

If no significant environmental findings emerge as part of the study and the
design of the project remains the same, the project will be re-bid. If this
scenario occurs, bids could again be received summer of 2007 with work
beginning again in the fall of 2007. Actual construction duration is
projected to last 36 months. The project would be complete in 2010 instead
of 2008 as previously planned. (Note: They don’t mention the original project funded in 2003 and 2004 that should be completed already!) We anticipate the cost of the project will
increase approximately $8 million over the original contract assuming a
conservative 5% construction inflation factor. (Note: They don’t mention the original project funded in 2003 and 2004 that cost only $48 million which THEY turned into a toll plan at a cost of $83 million…TxDOT is responsible for this cost overrun!) If the results of the
environmental study include recommended design changes, the start date of
construction would be further adjusted.

If significant environmental findings emerge, resulting in the need to
prepare an Environmental Impact Statement, it could be 2 ½ to 5 years before
a decision on the project will be made. (Note: TxDOT should have immediately begun a full environmental impact statement (EIS) as soon as the FHA pulled their clearance and saved us this unnecessary delay). If at that time, the studies result
in a different design than was previously approved there would be additional
time required to acquire any additional rights of way as well as re-design
the project. It is projected that this re-design and right of way
acquisition work would take 2 to 4 years after the environmental decision is
made. (Note: There is no need for a re-design, just install the original design at $48 million)

If this scenario occurs, work on corridor could re-commence again in
approximately 4 ½ to 9 years. Construction on the Loop 1604 to Stone Oak
Parkway section would be complete sometime between 2014 and 2019. The
preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement is estimated to cost an
additional $2 million.

As part of the environmental study, the no-build (or do nothing) option will
be considered.
If the decision is made through the additional studies that
the no-build option is preferred by the region, no work will be performed on
the corridor until another project is identified and appropriately studied
in the future. No estimate is available on a timeline should this scenario
occur.

“Based upon the possible timeline scenarios and the associated uncertainty
that currently exists, it is deemed to be in the public’s best financial
interest to cancel the existing project and re-bid at a later date rather
than pay a contractor stand-by time” said Frank Holzmann, P.E., San Antonio
Mobility Office Engineer.

Two identical Public Meetings to discuss the environmental re-assessments
will be held on March 29 at Reagan High School and March 30 at Bush Middle
School. Both meetings will begin with an Open House starting at 6:00 pm
followed by a presentation beginning at 7:00 pm.

An additional $21 million project to construct an underpass at US 281 and
Borgfeld Road was scheduled to be bid for contract in January 2006. This
project has also been delayed pending completion of the environmental study,
as it is within the limits subject to the lawsuit. The timeline scenarios
for this project are similar to the project from Loop 1604 to Stone Oak
Parkway.

Traffic on US 281 just north of Loop 1604 has increased from 8600 vehicles
per day in 1980 to approximately 91,000 vehicles per day in 2004. Between
1998 and 2001, there were crashes which resulted in 9 fatalities and over
700 injuries on US 281 between Loop 1604 and the Comal County line.

“We regret the inconvenience to the driving public and urge safe driving
habits as we work to resolve this matter,” added Holzmann.

Toll road contract canceled for studies
Web Posted: 03/25/2006 12:00 AM CST
San Antonio Express-News

The Texas Department of Transportation has canceled an $84 million contract with Zachry Construction Corp. for the construction of toll lanes on U.S 281 north of Loop 1604, pending the outcome of additional environmental studies.

The agency said Friday that if no significant environmental findings emerge from the new study and the project’s design does not change, it will be re-bid by the summer of 2007, with construction beginning that fall.

It would be completed in 2010 instead of 2008 as previously planned, at an additional cost of $8 million.

If the study determines that a full Environmental Impact Statement needs to be conducted, it could take up to five years to make a final decision on the project, delaying completion on the Loop 1604 to Stone Oak Parkway section from 2014 to 2019, TxDOT said in a statement.

“Based upon the possible timeline scenarios and the associated uncertainty that currently exists, it is deemed to be in the public’s best financial interest to cancel the existing project and re-bid at a later date rather than pay a contractor stand-by time,” said TxDOT project engineer Frank Holzmann.

TxDOT was forced to reopen previous environmental studies in response to a lawsuit filed by two groups opposed to the project, which was scheduled to begin in January.

The past findings will be combined with any new data in a single environmental document for the corridor, from Loop 1604 to Borgfeld Road.

The agency has hired a consultant for the new study, which will cost about $800,000 and take at least a year to complete.

Public meetings to discuss the environmental reassessments will be held Wednesday at Reagan High School and Thursday at Bush Middle School.

Both meetings will begin with an open house at 6 p.m. followed by a presentation at 7 p.m.

0 Replies to “TxDOT officially pulls 281 contract; vows to re-bid it once environmental studies complete”

  1. Wayne Mosley

    Since the tollers (TXDot, Rick Perry, Nelson Wolf, ect.) will not listen to the voters or
    taxpayers. Maybe we need to treat them like any contracter that you have do work for you.
    If they do not do the job as promised they do not get paid. That means quit paying our taxes ,SHUT THE GOVERNMENT DOWN, They only care about money anyway.

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