Public Works is making changes to how it updates the City Council and the public on the progress of capital improvement projects.
Construction contracts also will be modified to help ensure infrastructure improvement projects, such as city road work, are completed on schedule, said Razi Hosseini, director of Public Works, the department that oversees bond projects.
The changes come after the city, faced with multiple problems on the North St. Mary’s Strip project and on other corridors, looked to improve how it supports impacted businesses and also holds contractors accountable.
At a briefing for the council’s transportation and mobility committee on Tuesday, Hosseini outlined the specific plan for bond program oversight, with reporting to four different council committees. In addition, two new boards have been established.
One new advisory board will oversee projects related to streets, bridges and sidewalks, and report to the transportation and mobility committee.
The board will advise staff on how to improve outreach and communication efforts to residents and businesses affected by construction and ensure transparency in prioritizing future streets, bridges, sidewalk and drainage projects, Hosseini said.
Another new board will keep an eye on stormwater management projects going forward and report to the planning and community development committee.
There are 62 projects involving streets, bridges and sidewalks in the 2022 bond. Only one is under construction with the others in the predesign and design phases. All are on schedule, Hosseini said.
In January, the council passed a new city law that ensures construction contractors who don’t do a good job on road work and other projects will be disqualified from future bid opportunities.
The responsible bidders ordinance allows city staff to refuse bids from contractors that previously did not meet expectations on a project, did not adhere to deadlines or owes the city money.
The ordinance is meant to ensure a fair bidding process on projects where the lowest bid is selected. Public Works will use a scorecard to evaluate contractors based on six factors, such as meeting requirements and staying on schedule, with a grade given for each.
Contractors with a score below 70% will not be awarded projects for three years and must provide an operations improvement plan to bid on future projects. Hosseini said city staff has met with a number of contractors to go over the new rules.
The ordinance has caught the attention of the City of Austin, which is looking to enact similar laws, Hosseini said.
In addition, construction contracts will include liquidated damages — how much the contractor must pay the city for its failure to complete a project on time. The amount is based on actual damages from the inability to use streets or sidewalks and the anticipated impact to storefront businesses.
“This is not really a way for us to make money,” Hosseini said. “We are going to use the [Texas Department of Transportation] standard regarding the evaluation of how much liquidated damage we should include for each project.”
But contracts will also be written to include incentives for work done on time on certain qualifying projects. The maximum amount of incentive pay will depend on the project budget, Hosseini said.
“I think that this ordinance is a really good example of this council not just responding to the needs of our community but being more proactive and trying to prevent issues from happening that affect not only our residents but our businesses,” said Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda (D6), who is chairperson of the transportation and mobility committee.
Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2) said he felt the incentive effort seemed like a good idea to help get projects done right.
“Money is the greatest incentive,” he said. But he questioned the 70% grade on a performance scorecard and whether a contractor scoring just barely over that percentage should qualify to bid. “What is acceptable to us and what’s not?”
“This ordinance is in its infancy, if you will,” said Roderick Sanchez, assistant city manager. “I think we need a year to look at it, evaluate how we’re doing, evaluate how our project managers are scoring the contractors.”
Councilman John Courage (D9) asked how a contractor could recover following the three-year, time-out phase, and if work completed according to requirements for another city, county or district would help them requalify for City of San Antonio contracting jobs. Hosseini said that it would.
“This ordinance really brings to your attention [that] we mean business,” he said. “If they really can do a good job and prove to us with some other agents they have done a good job, we have no reason to not recommend them to City Council for approval.”