Motorists unhappy with construction delays on a short stretch of Beach Street north of Loop 820 will have to endure the frustration for several more weeks.
Fort Worth city officials met with the project contractor at the job site Wednesday afternoon, only to find out that the work won’t be completed until the end of the year.
JLB Contracting in Fort Worth was supposed to have the roadwork finished in May, 15 months after construction on the $8.6 million project began.
North Beach is a popular north-south alternative to Interstate 35W for commuters, especially for those going to and from north Fort Worth to downtown. But with the stretch lined with orange barriers and detour signs, that commuting option has essentially been eliminated.
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While the overall project is six months behind schedule, some relief to congestion could come by Thanksgiving. Two winding lanes of traffic are separated by orange poles on one side of Beach, but a new traffic pattern will soon be switched to one lane of northbound and southbound traffic on respective sides of the street, said Sam Davis, president of JLB Contracting.
Each side will eventually have three lanes, with medians and left turn lanes.
“I need a couple of weeks to make connections at the intersections,” Davis said. “I still think the end of the year is doable. You will see more activity on the project in the next couple of weeks.”
Residents, particularly those who live in north Fort Worth and Haltom City, are angered that the project has taken so long, with some saying months went by and no work was being done at all.
The project involves the reconstruction of North Beach Street between NE Loop 820 and Fossil Creek Boulevard as a six-lane divided street to match Beach Street north of Fossil Creek.
‘Everybody is frustrated’
Davis said this week that some of the project delays are not of his making, but rather are utility-related. This spring, the project was pushed back more than three months because they had to wait on Atmos Energy to move gas lines that were not buried deep enough.
Now, Davis said they’re waiting on Oncor to get power to the site for street lights and the new traffic signals at three intersections. But that work request has to be made by the city to Oncor, he said.
Davis said his electrical subcontractor told the city more than three months ago to put that request through, but by the end of October, they still had not received word from Oncor or the city when that would happen.
A city construction inspector asked Oncor by email for a status update Wednesday morning after the Star-Telegram began inquiring about the project delays.
The city’s project manager, Mike Weiss, said the city hasn’t heard back from Oncor.
Davis admits his crews haven’t been as attentive to the project recently as they probably should have been, but that is changing. In the meantime, crews have been working on sidewalks, driveways and curbs, he said.
Weiss, too, said the contractor will soon finish paving the intersection at Sandshell Drive and Beach Street and complete the Whataburger driveway.
“I know everybody is frustrated,” Davis said. “There’s nobody more frustrated that the job isn’t finished than me. We’re heavily incentivezed to get out of there. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon occurrence.”
A manager at the Panda Express restaurant on the east side of North Beach just north of Loop 820 said construction hurt the business last year, but because some of the road has reopened, things are picking back up.
Other businesses are still struggling, though, he said.
Fined $650 a day
JLB Contracting will pay some damages on the project for not completing it on time, Weiss said. The contract says the city can charge $650 a day for every day the project is overdue. The city has been tallying the days since Oct. 26, Weiss said.
The project was approved by voters in the 2014 bond program as part of $148.4 million in street reconstruction projects. Existing 6-inch and 12-inch water mains and a 15-inch sanitary sewer main were replaced as part of the work.
Doug Wiersig, the city’s transportation and public works director, said tight construction labor markets have contributed to delays on this project as well as other city street projects. He said that was dented even further when Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas Gulf Coast in August. Many laborers went to Houston knowing they can earn more money there in the rebuilding, Wiersig said.
“Everyone is having trouble with that,” Wiersig said.
JLB was one of two firms to bid on the project, promising it could finish the work 75 days sooner and $570,000 cheaper than the other bidder, Jackson Construction. JLB bid $5.85 million for the construction. The remainder of the costs went to pay for design work, right-of-way and easement acquisition and utility relocation, among other things.
The City Council awarded the contract in December of 2015.