Denton drivers need Job's patience and perseverance to get around town this spring.
The Texas Department of Transportation has two major widening projects in Denton and more are coming soon. City crews are at work, too, but they are behind on their to-do list of about $200 million in road, water, sewer and other public projects. In some cases, money for wider roads has been sitting for more than a decade while the city wrangles for right of way.
City Manager Todd Hileman recently reorganized some city staff to focus on roads and other construction to get projects back on track. Galen Gillum, the city's new interim director of capital projects, briefed the City Council on Tuesday afternoon about his assignment as prodder-in-chief. Gillum originally came to Denton to work for Denton Municipal Electric.
"I'm very excited to push as hard as I can to get things done," Gillum said.
Council members thanked the staff for the renewed energy and focus, even as Gillum cautioned them that they, too, play a role in keeping construction projects on track.
"We have to watch out for special requests," Gillum said, adding that unscheduled work can slow or even stop scheduled projects.
For example, many residents called for better sidewalks along Bell Avenue after a Texas Woman's University student tried to cross the street, was hit by a car and died in January 2015. The first sidewalk design would have taken out large trees and valuable parking spots, so the project got off track, Gillum said.
But he and others resurrected the project, saved the trees and hope to have the new, safer sidewalk completed by the end of this month. Improvements to Bell Avenue itself, through the TWU campus, should be finished in July, Gillum said.
Many city street repairs wait until underground utility work is done, which drivers often don't understand since that work can leave a road in bumpy shape — at least temporarily.
For example, crews are upgrading a main sewer line through the central city. It took a year and about $3.2 million for a segment that goes through Quakertown Park and neighborhoods around Calhoun Middle School. Another $1.1 million will take the line past Denton High School this year.
That work had to be completed before crews could pave Bolivar, Congress and other central city streets and roads.
Gallum didn't talk about the city's limited role in moving utility lines so that TxDOT contractors could widen University Drive (U.S. Highway 380), Fort Worth Drive (U.S. Highway 377), Interstate 35E and FM2499. But some of that information was part of the packet that council members received in advance of the meeting.
The $20.1 million job to widen University Drive is behind schedule and won't be finished until the end of May. The I-35E/35 project is scheduled to be finished midyear. State officials haven't announced a construction timeline for widening Fort Worth Drive.
Instead, Gillum outlined the city's four largest road projects in the coming years:
West Hickory Street ($3.8 million) — City crews are replacing water and sewer lines now. New pavement comes next year.
East McKinney Street ($19.8 million) — Widen to four lanes from Loop 288 to Grissom Road, including sidewalks to Ryan High School. Finished by 2020.
Mayhill Road ($56.7 million) — Widen to four lanes, including sidewalks. Finished by 2020.
Bonnie Brae Street ($75.3 million) — Widen to four lanes, including sidewalks. Finished by 2023.
Council member Kevin Roden renewed his call for more user-friendly information about roads and construction projects on the city's website. Roden has asked for the help for his constituents throughout his six years of service on the City Council. He said he wants residents to be able to go to the city's website, enter the name of any street and get all the information the city has about that street: its condition score, whether it is scheduled for repairs, and if so, when they might be completed.
"The No. 1 question we get as council members is a street question," Roden said. "It's hard, even as a council member, to get the information."
The city's website does include a map of projects to be paid for by bonds, but the map does not contain up-to-date information on construction projects.
Council member Kathleen Wazny said that no matter how the city staff communicates the work, they need to use plain language and not jargon like "public works."
"You have to make it clear to people," Wazny said. "It impacts their walk to school and their commute."
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881.
In Other Action
During its regular meeting Tuesday night, the Denton City Council also:
Approved construction of a gas supply pipeline and meter for the Denton Energy Center, Denton Municipal Electric's new power plant, for $1.4 million with Enterprise Pipeline Texas.
Approved the sale of $102 million in bond sales for the solid waste fund, the electric fund and general government activities; and the issue of $30.7 million in general obligation bonds.
Awarded a construction contract to Dickerson Construction for a new sewer line from Fulton Street to Newton Rayzor Elementary School for $1.1 million; an architectural contract to Kirkpatrick Architecture Studio for Fire Station No. 3 for $652,200; and the purchase of police motorcycles from American Eagle Harley-Davidson for $222,690.
Approved an electricity transmission agreement with Texas Municipal Power Agency.
Abandoned a portion of East Hickory Street, as described in the city’s original plat, to resolve a longstanding encroachment by the Denton Record-Chronicle building.
Prohibited parking on a portion of the south side of Texas Street (between Vine
and Frame streets) and on the east side of Denton Street (between Oak and Hickory streets).
Agreed to in-kind services worth $11,000 for the Denton Juneteenth Celebration and $18,000 for the Denton Cinco de Mayo celebration.
Made small grants to the Denton Black Chamber Entrepreneurs Weekend ($100), the Calhoun Middle School Color Run ($300) and Cyclodia 2017 ($350).
Approved noise exemptions for the Fry Street Freedom Festival (May 21), the Cinco de Mayo celebration at Quakertown Park (May 6), the Denton Arts & Jazz Festival at Quakertown Park (April 28-30), a Village Church service at North Lakes Park (April 23), and the Denton Juneteenth Celebration at Quakertown Park (June 16-17).
Featured image: A construction worker tapes off a section of the street near the intersection of West Hickory Street and North Texas Boulevard on Tuesday afternoon in Denton.