What began as a seemingly straight-forward project — the widening of 1.25 miles of Rufe Snow Drive from Mid-Cities Boulevard to Ridgetop Road (just north of the Brunswick Zone Watauga Lanes bowling alley) — is now five months behind schedule. And, it appears that at least several more months of work remain.
For about the next two weeks, traffic is reduced to one lane in each direction between Chapman and Hightower drives, as workers scramble to dig out enough earth on the west side of the road to make room for the new lanes.
“Motorists should expect delays and when possible take alternate routes,” North Richland Hills spokeswoman Mary Peters said in an email.
The slow pace of the project has been a source of irritation at city hall, where elected and appointed leaders have fielded complaints from motorists and roadside businesses.
Rufe Snow Drive is a major north-south thoroughfare that is nearly 10 miles long and connects Richland Hills, North Richland Hills and Keller. Parts of the road carry more than 31,000 vehicles per day, according to historical traffic counts kept by the North Central Texas Council of Governments.
The road is a very popular commuting option for residents of Keller, Southlake and other cities in Northeast Tarrant County and southern Denton County, many of whom use it to get on Loop 820 for access to the Metroplex’s freeway and tollway system.
The improvements include widening Rufe Snow Drive to seven lanes — up from five lanes, including two lanes in each direction and a median left turn-only lane. Also, the road is being rebuilt with a durable concrete driving surface, sidewalks on both sides, modernized signals and some tweaks to the adjacent water and sewer lines.
So what’s behind the big-time delay?
“There were some problems with the contractor but they have been resolved,” said Tim Welch, a city councilman. “It has been a slow process, no doubt about it.”
Welch said the initial delays were caused by funding issues. The project is mostly being paid for by $12.1 million in city bond revenue, but the Regional Transportation Council and Texas Department of Transportation also stepped in to assist.
But, Welch said, more recently the culprit has been finding enough workers to keep the construction trucks moving.
“In two or three years, when things slow down, everybody is going to be looking for work,” he said. “But right now, everybody has all the work they can handle.”
The contractor is Kodiak Trenching and Boring, which lists its home office in Grapevine. Officials from the contractor could not immediately be reached for comment.
The contractor is being charged “damages” of $1,285 per day for each working day the project is delayed beyond the original date the project was scheduled to be complete, which was Feb. 28, 2018, Peters said.
However, as of Tuesday it was unclear what the precise tally was for those late fees — but city officials said the fines likely have already exceeded $100,000 and could go much higher.
“For going past the contract deadline, liquidated damages of $1,285 per working day are accruing and will be deducted from payments the contractor receives,” Peters said.
Peters added that the city is still operating under the assumption that the project will be completed by the end of the year.
But Welch acknowledged that, based on the condition of Rufe Snow Drive this week, it looks like many months of work remain, and completion in 2019 might be more realistic.
The contractor has completed pavement of the lanes on the northbound side of the roadway and is currently excavating dirt for the planned lanes on the southbound side. Once the southbound side is completed, the contractor still must renovate the lanes in the middle of the road, including the left turn-only lane.
“If the weather hits just right, they might hit it,” Welch said of the end-of-year deadline. “But it’s an aggressive schedule. One weather event could set them back.”
Mayor Oscar Trevino, who owns a separate highway contracting company and has built similar projects in North Texas for decades, said the city looked at options that included canceling the Rufe Snow Drive contract with Kodiak. But all the options would have resulted in further delays of the project, which would have made things worse for the city’s residents.
In the end, he said, it’s probably best to just let the contractor finish the job — and pay a hefty late fee.