Infrastructure construction continues along North Alamo Street as the project has failed to meet deadlines.
Completion of a sewer replacement project along North Alamo Street is being delayed. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

When Jill Giles arrived to work Tuesday morning at her design business at North Alamo and Sixth Street, the smell that greeted her was gag-inducing.

Crews with Oscar Renda Contracting working on the San Antonio Water System sewer project in the area were cutting large pipes that had been sitting on the center line of North Alamo Street for months. The cuts allowed sewage to spill out and fill gutters, leading some of Giles’ employees to fashion makeshift bridges to help other employees enter the building.

Giles said crews opened several fire hydrants to move the sewage to drains.

It was another in a long line of frustrating moments for the area’s workers and business owners, who have have been eagerly awaiting the end of the $15.3 million Broadway Corridor project. They learned this week the project, which began more than a year ago, has run into delays and is not expected to be completed until May 2019. The original completion target was January.

SAWS officials told the Rivard Report the delays have put the project $174,000 over budget.

Rachel Sackett, director of marketing and communications at Southland Holdings, the parent company of Oscar Renda Contracting, did not respond to requests for comment about the project.

“It has been unbelievable,” said Giles, creative director of Giles Design Bureau. “I have never seen anything as neglectful in city construction ever. And I grew up in Brazil.”

Giles said SAWS has done a poor job of communicating with area residents and business owners about the project since it was started in October 2017. Crews tore up the street near her business four or five times in the past year, she said, paved it over again and then returned weeks or months later to tear it up again, making it difficult for employees and customers to navigate the area each time.

The construction has caused major ruts in the road that have been dangerous to both drivers and pedestrians, especially with the recent heavy rainfalls in September and October, she said.

SAWS spokesman Gavino Ramos said those rains are primarily to blame for the expected four-month delay in completion.

“There are several factors or events that led to delays,” Ramos said. “Our work is very dependent on dry weather conditions. However, we had record rainfall in the months of September and October. This type of work also requires a lot of coordination with other entities such as the City and the Texas Department of Transportation. We also have to be sensitive to large scheduled events such as Fiesta and the Rock n’ Roll marathon.”

Rachelle Gomez is office manager at Fine Lines Automotive at 606 N. Alamo St., across the intersection from Giles’ business. Gomez said dirt, mud, and bad smells from the project have been frustrating, but it hasn’t affected business much.

“We have a lot of repeat customers and they know they can park around back,” she said.

Giles said she is happy to see the above-ground pipes go after seeing numerous cars and pedestrians have run-ins or near-misses with them this summer and fall. Ramos said the above-ground pipes are bypass sewer mains required to keep sewer service to the area going while crews work to replace sewer pipes below ground.

The project is large, beginning at Elm Street and Interstate 37 and extending down Sixth Street, up Alamo Street under I-37 to Josephine Street near The Pearl. It replaces piping, some of which is more than a century old. SAWS reached an agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency in 2013 to replace aging sewer lines around the city in order to curb pollution caused by leaks.

Ramos said underground work is finished where above-ground pipes were removed this week, but above-ground pipes will still be needed at Elm and McCullough streets, under I-37 at Alamo Street, Josephine Street, and Avenue B before the project is complete.

Replacing the sewer lines is important not just because of the pipes being replaced are so old but because there are so many new residents and businesses moving into the area. Thousands more people will be using the system in the coming years.

“SAWS has used all its communication tools at its disposal to make residents and businesses aware of the repair work,” Ramos said. “Employees went door-to-door to discuss the project with business owners prior to construction being started.

“We have provided updates on the Nextdoor app that targets the area, and we have provided information and updates to the City Council District 1 office. Our on-site inspectors also conduct outreach by keeping businesses informed and answer questions they may have.”

While there is a delay with the SAWS sewer project, that is not the case with the future headquarters for CPS Energy, which is just west across Broadway Street.

CPS Energy spent $25.3 million in 2016 to acquire the former AT&T and Valero Energy buildings at Avenue B and McCullough Avenue in order to transform them into the municipally owned utility’s new headquarters.

Earlier this year, crews stripped the buildings down to the steel beams, but it doesn’t appear as if much has happened at the property since then.

Melissa Sorola, CPS Energy’s director of corporate communications, said like the SAWS project, work at the future headquarters has been affected by the historic rainfall this fall, but the project remains on budget and on time with a targeted completion of mid-2020.

Trace Levos, a communications specialist with CPS Energy, said the next development passersby will notice at the project is the construction of the new six-story parking garage at Avenue B and Brooklyn Street, which is part of the $210 million project. The parking garage is expected to be completed a few months ahead of the rest of the headquarters, Levos said.

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Kyle Ringo

Kyle Ringo is a freelance journalist based in San Antonio. He has covered business, college athletics, the NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball for numerous publications and websites.