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Denton catching up on capital projects

UPDATE 10:45 a.m.: This story has been changed to provide the correct year that work must begin on East McKinney Street from Loop 288 to Ryan High School under an agreement with the Texas Department of Transportation. 

About $348 million Denton plans to use next year on capital improvements was budgeted for spending this year. And about $228 million spent on road, water, sewer and other construction work this year was supposed to be finished last year. 

The shifting budget lines beg the question: Just how far behind is the work? 

Galen Gillum, the city's new director of capital projects, said city crews and contractors are trying to accelerate the work pace on streets, in particular.

"We realize it's a stretch to get more done each year than the year before," Gillum said. 

The city has hired more people to work in its street crews. Contractors working for the city have also hired more people to get the work done faster. The city has purchased equipment that allows them to work faster, and it has contracted with another asphalt supplier. 

City staff also tried to work smarter, Gillum said. Street and drainage work crews have bundled some jobs together. And job superintendents work more closely with natural gas and telecommunications utilities to clear an area so they can get to work faster. 

In 2014, the second year of rebuilding hundreds of street segments, Denton rebuilt only 16 because of problems moving natural gas lines. In 2015, the city rebuilt 26 segments. 

It wasn't until 2016 that street crews hit their stride, Gillum said, rebuilding 58 segments. This year, they should be able to finish 65 more. 

As a result, he said he believes all the street reconstruction financed by bonds that voters approved in 2012 and 2014 should be finished by 2020. 

The accelerated pace should also help several high-profile street projects that are not part of those two bond elections, he said. 

For example, East McKinney Street will be widened and improved from Loop 288 eastward to Ryan High School. At first, engineers wanted to delay installing a sidewalk in order to move utility lines in the area. Gillum told them no.  

"This [a safe route to school] is the whole reason we're doing this project," Gillum said. 

The city would allow for a sidewalk panel to be cut and repaired to move a utility line, Gillum said.   

Work is expected to begin shortly, according to council member Sara Bagheri. Some of the money to rebuild East McKinney Street, which is also FM426, is coming from the Texas Department of Transportation. The state agreed to surrender the road to the city, along with money allocated for its repair, on the condition that work begin in 2018. 

The work should be finished by 2020, Gillum said. The city has not yet allocated money to widen two-lane East McKinney Street west of Loop 288 to Woodrow Lane. 

Construction has begun on the southernmost segment of Bonnie Brae Street, between the University of North Texas campus and Vintage Boulevard. The $75 million project will eventually extend to U.S. Highway 77 on the city's north side. 

The southern segment will be realigned to new bridges at a higher elevation over Hickory Creek. The bridges should be high enough to cross the creek even in a 100-year-flood, Gillum said. 

Council  member Gerard Hudspeth asked for updates on plans for two roads in his district: Morse Street and Mockingbird Lane. 

Mockingbird Lane, which runs several miles north and south on the city's east side, is scheduled to be realigned and rebuilt this year. 

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881.

FEATURED PHOTO: A motorcyclist on South Bonnie Brae Street passes over a bridge above Hickory Creek, south of the intersection with Roselawn Drive, in Denton on Tuesday. It's taken several years for the city of Denton to amass all the rights of way it needs to widen Bonnie Brae Street from a two-lane country road to a four-lane thoroughfare that can help motorists travel the west side of the city. Now, the $75 million job will be done in phases, with the southern end underway soon.
Jeff Woo/DRC