For many years, a network of narrow country roads in far southwest Arlington has forced students of three schools to walk and bike on ragged edges of pavement or ride buses that clog traffic and, on occasion, get their back wheels stuck in ditches while trying to make right turns.
Now, traffic — and possibly students — are humming.
The $18 million “Tri-School” road project has finished rebuilding large sections of the roads near Carol Holt Elementary, Cross Timbers Intermediate and T.A. Howard Middle Schools, with concrete, installing sidewalks and curbs and gutters, and eliminating all bar ditches — five months early. Streets were fully reopened early this month.
“Basically, the kids have a safe place to walk to and from school,” said Keith Brooks, city engineering operations manager for Public Works and Transportation. “That was the main point, and, of course, the roadways needed to be rebuilt anyway.”
The project also included two roundabouts, or traffic circles, at the intersections of Calender and Russell roads and of Calender and West Harris roads.
“It improves safety by lowering the speed at the intersections,” said Bob Watson, city project manager and a civil engineer also with Public Works. He said accidents on roundabouts are less common and less serious. “They are low-energy crashes because they’re coming in at angles, instead of a head-on or T-bone.”
Pedestrian crossings around the circle will be safer, too, because people will encounter only one-way traffic, he said.
The road projects were funded by the 2008 bond elections. New water and sewer lines installed in some road sections were part of the $18 million total but were funded separately through city water utility revenue, Watson said.
Construction started in June 2014, causing months of lane closures and detours, and was scheduled to finish in August, Watson said. The early finish, in addition to sparing drivers more months of stress, earned the general contractor, Jackson Construction, a bonus of $500 a day. The total cache is projected to be $60,000.
Watson said Jackson nearly doubled its workforce for much of its time on the project.
The city’s incentives program can also bite. Each day beyond the agreed completion date costs the contractor $500.
Some minor punch-list items remain, and roadwork added late to the project — a 300-foot extension of Harris Road and a waterline — should start construction in April, Watson said.
The old streets were built county-road style — two-lane asphalt lined with bar ditches — long before population growth prompted the Mansfield school district to build the schools, which are just within Arlington’s city limits, Watson said.
The main projects were improvements to Ledbetter Road from Curry Road to Russell Road, Russell Road from Ledbetter Road to Calender Road, and Calender Road from Russell Road to West Harris Road.
Crews also fixed a blind spot on Curry Road, reducing the height of a hill that made traffic difficult for motorists at the Ledbetter intersection to see with enough warning.
“As cars were coming over the hill, they would kind of be on top of you before you could see them,” said Brooks. “We knocked the hill down 4 feet.”
He called the improvement temporary, pointing out the 2014 bond program includes rebuilding Curry Road from Calender Road to U.S. 287.
Mansfield school board Vice President Raul Gonzalez said he’s already getting positive feedback from the community.
“For the students, it was so scary back then. Cars and buses weren’t safe,” Gonzalez told the city website MyArlingtonTX.com. “Fortunately, no one ever got hurt, but it caused a lot of traffic concerns. “It’s a lot better for the kids to walk to school on the new sidewalks. I’m glad it finally happened and they don’t have to walk in a ditch.”
The Tri-Schools project might not have made the 2008 ballot if it weren’t for a grassroots effort that included a petition signed by residents and some pressure applied by Arlington Councilwoman Sheri Capehart, whose District 2 includes those schools and neighborhoods.
“The city at that time was not that engaged with MISD,” Capehart said. “It was far south and hadn’t been brought to the attention of the city.”
Capehart said she pleaded with city officials to at least put the project on the 2008 bond bus tour, the tradition of taking the citizens bond committee around to look at all potential projects for an upcoming bond election.
The committee was concerned about the poor road conditions. Capehart said the Tri-Schools project rose from nowhere to one of the top spots on the project list recommended to the City Council.
“I don’t know if that’s ever happened before,” Capehart said.