Construction on the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project will begin next week, but the transformative effort is turning out to be more expensive and more time consuming than initially anticipated, officials said Thursday at a San Pedro Creek subcommittee meeting at the San Antonio River Authority offices.
A number of factors including design changes already put the project over budget in October, leading the County to up its financial commitment to the $175 million effort.
As of late, cost impacts have risen by 35%, due to the project’s fast tracked schedule as well as a lack of bidders for the project’s small work packages, River Authority Watershed Engineer Kerry Averyt told the subcommittee.
“It’s a very high-risk project. (There are) a lot of unknowns and it creates a lot of apprehension among the contracting community,” he said.
The project has been on a fast tracked schedule for the past few months so the first segment of the creek – from its inlet to Dolorosa Street – can be completed by San Antonio’s Tricentennial celebration the first week of May 2018, but Averyt said that constraints with utility relocation and street closures have slowed down the construction schedule.
Work crews have to coordinate with several cable and internet providers to slice and re-route hundreds of copper strands and fiber optic cables along Houston Street, an arduous and lengthy process.
That work has to be completed before bridge demolition on Houston Street, which will likely be delayed by about four months, can commence, Averyt said. Construction on the Commerce Street Bridge has been delayed by three months.
The demolition will require several full and partial road closures on Houston and Commerce streets, and mitigating the amount and duration of those closures has prolonged the construction timeline.
Starting next week, there will be alternate lane closures on Houston and Commerce streets, Averyt added. Houston Street will be fully closed between Laredo and Camaron streets until April 2018, he said, and the portion of Commerce Street just west of Camaron Street down to Laredo Street will be fully closed through March 2017.
Both streets will be fully closed simultaneously from June to September 2017, though that could change depending on the construction schedule.
Completing the creek from its inlet to Dolorosa Street by May 2018, Averyt said, would have meant fully closing Commerce Street for 13 months, impacting the surrounding businesses and the 2017 and 2018 Fiesta celebrations. That’s why the team has altered the construction plan.
“It’s just not feasible … to close Commerce Street for that amount of time,” Averyt said.
Ed Cross, subcommittee member and owner/developer of The Vistana, said that project planners should increase their communication with area business owners and residents regarding the major street closures.
“I know my peers don’t know about it, and I’d strongly encourage (you) to have some sort of public outreach for everyone on the Westside of the creek to discuss this,” he told Averyt at the subcommittee meeting, adding that such major closures could have a “terrible impact” on those businesses and property owners.
River Authority General Manager Suzanne Scott said that they’ve been working with the City of San Antonio to create a traffic map to share with property owners and the public. The River Authority is also creating a mobile app to share that information and will post it on its website.
“We’re sharing the information as soon as we’re getting it and it’s approved,” Scott said. Those who want to learn more about the project and any updates can attend a free, informational luncheon at the Christopher Columbus Italian Society, 201 Piazza Italia, on Thursday, Dec. 15 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Other aspects of the effort are advancing, Averyt said. The River Authority has already acquired all of the necessary rights of way, and anticipates receiving approval for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permits by Dec. 23 and the final signatures for those permits by Jan. 3, 2017.
After the most recent cost and construction analyses, Averyt said, the team is confident it can complete the creek up to Houston Street in time for the Tricentennial celebration in May 2018 and anticipates finishing the remaining portion up to Dolorosa Street by September 2018.
The subcommittee Thursday proposed presenting said data and solutions as an official recommendation when the project team makes its presentation to Bexar County Commissioners on Tuesday, Dec. 13. At that time, Commissioners will give the team authorization on how to move forward with the effort.
“It’s better to set the right expectations and have a better chance to meet them than it is to set the wrong expectations later and have a lot more pressure and angst, especially from the business community downtown,” subcommittee Co-chair Jerry Geyer said.
The team’s focus and commitment remains strong despite the setbacks, Averyt said.
“We’re not stopping right now, we’re continuing forward in getting this construction going,” he said. “We still want to present a quality project that San Antonio and Bexar County can be proud of.”
Meanwhile, the San Pedro Creek design team, led by Muñoz and Company and Pape Dawson Engineers, presented an “interpretive masterplan” for the creek, which it envisions as a “culture park.” The waterway’s programming will portray the “cultural and historic resources” found along the creek throughout history. The team has selected eight different areas of focus to include, but is still open to suggestions from the public, Bexar County Heritage & Parks Department Director Betty Bueché said.
“Ultimately there will be a document that captures all of this, and (it) will be available to the public to have them understand what’s going to happen (along the creek),” she said.
Designers plan to implement guided tours, talks, and exhibits along with architectural design elements, interpretive signage, and public art, among other things, to enhance the public’s understanding and appreciation of the historic creek that was once a life source for the indigenous peoples who lived along it.
The River Authority is also looking to hire an arts curator to manage and curate the creek’s public art program, San Pedro Creek Arts. To view the job posting, click here.