When Westchase District broke ground on the Walnut Bend street reconstruction project in September 2019, it marked the beginning of construction, but also the end of 18-months of design and engineering that involved approximately eight engineers, CAD drafters and constructability review professionals from Westchase District-based Lockwood Andrews & Newnam (LAN).
But as any engineer will tell you, real-world conditions don’t always match up to what was expected when the project was in design. In fact, they even have a name for it: unforeseen field conditions.
“Our crews have found unmarked gas lines, manhole connects that are not where they were expected to be and even a gas line that was in conflict with a storm drain,” noted Irma Sanchez, Westchase District’s vice president of projects, who is overseeing the construction project. “Each of these situations requires the contractor to submit an RFI (request for information) that is relayed through the project manager to the engineer. The engineer determines the answer and relays it back through the project manager to the contractor. All of these RFIs take days, weeks or even months to resolve. So far there have been 40 on this project.”
Delays monitored by on-site visits
Delays are no stranger in major construction projects and Westchase District’s $20-million reconstruction of Walnut Bend Lane is no exception. Supply chain delays were not uncommon and the workforce was occasionally reduced by COVID illnesses and quarantines.
Sanchez and the project team – which included the project manager (Texas Department of Transportation), contractor (Harper Brothers Construction), engineer (LAN) and landscape architect (Design Workshop) – met twice-monthly via phone in the early days of construction to discuss any unforeseen field conditions, material delays or budget overruns. Those meetings have transitioned to semi-monthly on-site inspections as the project gets closer to completion.
Despite the challenges – which include weather delays caused by the heavy May rains – the project is only about 90 days behind schedule. The roadway and curbs will be complete by the end of June and the sidewalks and landscaping will be complete in mid-July. “Our biggest challenge to completing this project will be the current shortage of landscaping materials and trees,” said Sanchez. “We’re getting most of the trees and plant materials from Florida.”
Street to open for summer driving
As construction winds down over the next few months, the project completion will be a relief to the property owners along Walnut Bend, as well as the residents and tenants who work or live along this busy neighborhood roadway. “Our property owners have been so cooperative throughout this process,” said Sanchez. “And Harper Brothers did a great job of accommodating them.” For example, when known water outages were expected, Westchase District staff would communicate with property managers to find out whether they preferred to experience that outage during the day or overnight.
“For our property owners, it’s been a challenge,” said Sanchez. “But they’re looking forward to being on a great street.” When it’s complete, Walnut Bend Lane will feature enhanced sidewalks, pedestrian lighting, dedicated bike lanes, custom bus shelters, bike racks and extensive landscaping. Below ground, the storm water runoff system has been enhanced and all utilities have been replaced. The District’s 380 Program with the City of Houston covered $4.4 million of the $20 million project. Houston Public Works will contribute another $4.6 million, and funding from the Federal Highway Administration paid for the rest of the project.