By LYNETTE HAALAND, Four Points News
Texas Department of Transportation says the RM 2222 widening project and the RM 2222/RM 620 bypass project are both delayed by up to a year from original projections due to the slow pace of getting utility poles.
Waiting on steel poles to move the utilities has caused months worth of slowdown on the two projects, which have a combined price tag of $39.4 million.
“Bad thing is, project 1 (RM 2222 widening) is behind. It was to be completed in April of this year. We won’t make April,” said Victor Vargas, TxDOT North Travis area engineer. “Project 1 is behind 10 to 12 months, the biggest catalyst is utility relocation, poles have to be installed first.”
At the groundbreaking ceremony in January 2019, officials expected the RM 2222/RM 620 projects to be done this summer, of 2020, but now estimates have been adjusted.
“Estimated completion for project 1 (RM 2222 widening) is mid-2021, project 2 (new bypass road) is expected to be complete by end of summer 2021,” Vargas said.
Vargas unveiled the latest project details at the Steiner Ranch Neighborhood Association February meeting, which was a Q&A format and attended by approximately 15 people.
The $23.6 million project 1 will add a third lane to eastbound RM 2222 from Bonaventure Drive to Sitio Del Rio Boulevard and westbound from Ribelin Ranch Drive to the River Place Boulevard area. A center median with turn lanes will also be constructed within the project limits.
The $15.8 million project 2, will add a bypass road through open land beginning near 6715 RM 620 near BBQ Outfitters and connecting to RM 2222.
The two roadwork projects are using a combination of funding including federal dollars. With those federal funds, the Buy American Act comes into play “requiring the United States government to prefer U.S.-made products in its purchases.”
“With the Buy American Act, federal dollars must be used on U.S. steel,” Vargas said, adding that TxDOT is an advocate of Buy American but that it has created delays because the steel poles have been taking a long time to manufacture and deliver.
“It’s been our biggest hurdle… the biggest hurdle has been acquisition of those poles… new steel utility poles,” Vargas said.
TxDOT does not keep an exact count of the number of poles, they are owned by Austin Energy, but TxDOT did estimate there are some 50 poles within the footprint of the two projects.
Vargas said that Austin Energy determines whether the poles will be steel or wood based on several factors. Many within the project footprint have been upgraded from wood to steel.
“Our estimate is about half are steel and half wood,” he said.
So far a large number of utility poles have been moved.
“New poles have been installed east of Bonaventure. There are crews installing the remaining poles on RM 2222,” Vargas said.“There are approximately ten poles remaining to complete the relocations. Once the poles are installed, the other utility companies will begin to attach to the new poles.”
Once the poles are up, Vargas explained that these companies or networks are attaching to the new poles: Greater Austin Area Telecommunications Network (GAATN), Grande, Spectrum, CenturyLink and AT&T.
In February, after the trees were cleared on the bypass road area, crews suspended major work on that project for some four to six months.
“We moved all of the trees in the bypass area,” Vargas said. That work was done several months ago because it was okay to clear trees then because it was not dove nesting season and crews could do that without clearance of a biologist.
“We went ahead and cleared the right of way, cleared trees prior to nesting season,” Vargas said.
He did not want to be the bearer of bad news but “until the utilities are put onto new poles, I’m stuck,” Vargas said. “Can’t do widening, can’t do pavement.”