Here are three city projects still under construction
Back in 2014, the city promised voters in far north Fort Worth a brand new library, featuring abundant natural light, a workshop area complete with a 3D printer and laser cutter, and, of course, thousands of books.
But five years later, the $9.1 million Golden Triangle Library — originally scheduled to open last summer — is still not done.
“It seems fairly simple to get built, but it’s taken so long, and that’s very disappointing,” said Rusty Fuller, president of the North Fort Worth Alliance. “The frustrating thing is this is a whole new thing and we have no idea how people will respond until it’s done.”
The Golden Triangle Library is one of the most prominent of the yet unfinished projects voters approved in the $292 million bond election in 2014. Of the 185 promised projects — which were supposed to be completed in five years — 71 are not finished, including major road work that hasn’t even begun along fast-growing corridors like North Riverside Drive.
Despite the delays, voters approved another $400 million for about 90 projects in 2018. This time around, City Manager David Cooke said residents can expect results. The city is taking steps to be more efficient about those projects by jump-starting design and property negotiations.
“I’m trying to get more accountability in the process and get things done sooner,” Cooke said.
So why are projects like the north Fort Worth library and Riverside Drive behind schedule?
There’s myriad reasons, city staff said, from utilities and property negations to unforeseen problems on the job site.
“We can’t really point to one thing,” said Kevin Gunn, interim assistant city manager. “We are evolving because we are realizing a lot of these challenges are common, and they pop up.”
Golden Triangle Library
Asked about the Golden Triangle Library, Councilman Dennis Shingleton, who represents the area, let out a deep sigh, saying he and the neighborhood were “very frustrated” with the library work.
“We promised them — it’s a library for them — with an excellent design, but we can’t get it done,” he said.
Garland-based Denco Construction Specialists was the low bid contractor in 2017. Since taking on the job, several delays have popped up which city staff have attributed to the contractor. As the Star-Telegram reported in June 2018, city inspectors found less-than-satisfactory work and required the contractor to redo parts of the project.
Gunn said the project was a “stretch job” for the small contractor because of the scope of work required. The contractor, he said, would probably argue the design was complicated, unforeseen challenges arose and the city changed its specifications on them. The project is expected to be finished by the end of the year.
“I think the truth is probably somewhere in the middle,” he said.
Denco did not return calls for comment.
Roads and bridges
Shingleton’s district also includes road projects from the 2014 election that have stalled or taken longer than expected.
A roughly $5.5 million effort to improve Silver Creek Road should be getting started soon, he said. The city encountered issues with utility relocation, according to city documents, but Shingleton also said historic bridges along the route complicated the design. The $15.6 million Montgomery Street improvement by Dickies Arena should be done in November, but it has been on the books since 2014.
Shingleton said he thought a possible workforce shortage had led to delays across city projects.
He lamented that often it seems like no work is being done on a road project — cones may be diverting traffic, but there are few or even no workers on site. That gave him the sense contractors were either understaffed or spreading themselves too thin, he said.
“It’s finding someone who will step up and do the work, commit to having people out there every day until it’s done,” he said. “There seems to be more contract jobs than there are contractors.”
Lauren Prieur, a transportation and public works administrator, said timing may drive the perception that work isn’t being done on a particular project.
For instance, most of the work remaining on the Montgomery Street project is landscaping. July and August, with temperatures routinely around 100 degrees, is not a great time to be planting grass and trees. Or it could be work paused for further surveying or design changes, she said.
At least two or three contractors bid on city projects, which is not out of line for historical averages, staff said. Growth across DFW has limited the number of contractors, Cooke said.
“This is such a hot construction market, growth market right now,” he said. “When you’re in a market like this, it’s hard to get labor and subcontractors because everyone is so busy. Not just for the city but for everyone.”
Councilman Cary Moon, whose District 4 has at least two road projects unfinished, said the city needed to be more aggressive when it negotiated with utility companies about relocating and with property owners about acquiring land.
Voters were promised in 2014 that North Riverside Drive would be widened from North Tarrant Parkway to Summerfrields Boulevard. It’s crucial to alleviating congestion and improving safety, Moon said. Two schools, including Fossil Ridge High School, are nearby.
That project, which has been in the works for nearly five years, has been delayed because of utility relocation issues. The area included six utility lines that needed to be relocated, delaying the start of construction, Prieur said. Work should begin in January.
Meanwhile, a roundabout on Harmon Road near Highway 287 has created trouble for years because of increased traffic. The plan for the roundabout since at least 2016 has been to add a right turn only lane. City documents show the expected completion date is 2023, which Moon said was too far off for what he called a “simple fix.”
“As a city we’ve been too nice to utility companies and with our use of eminent domain,” he said. “I’m not talking about taking people’s homes or farms. These are large commercial tracts of land where developers hold us up to get more money out of us when we could use eminent domain and move on.”
But city staff said negotiating can often be faster than eminent domain.
On average, property negotiations take 150 to 160 days, said Roger Venables, assistant director of the property management department. Because of state mandates and court proceedings, eminent domain or property condemnation takes at least 240 days, he said.
By the time the city wants to ask voters for more bond money in 2022, which could include funding for a new city hall, Cooke expects to have all of the 2014 projects completed and most of the ones from 2018 wrapping up.
Some of the $400 million approved in 2018 will pay for design work and property acquisition for projects the city will propose in 2022. That should make those projects move more quickly.
The city is also turning to contracts that commit the construction manager to finish the project within a set price. These contracts place more liability on contractors, but give them freedom to run the project in a way that could save money. To get access to property faster, the city has, in some cases, asked property owners who haven’t yet agreed to sell their land to allow the workers access to the parcel in question.
“We should be able to show great progress on all the projects, whether it’s a library or road or fire house,” Cooke said. “That gives voters great confidence that what they were promised will get done.”
Fuller, the north Fort Worth resident, said these projects are vital to keeping up with growing North Texas population, but voters may not have the appetite to support more if others remain undone.
“There’s no mystery that we’re growing faster than we expected,” Fuller said. “ I think they need to demonstrate they can deliver projects”