The fight over the Bagby street reconstruction project, described here as a kerfuffle last week, is now full-fledged pandemonium.
After 100 days of construction on the Complete Streets redesign of Bagby, the City of Houston’s Public Works director, Dan Krueger, is said to have ordered construction halted and called for another redesign, this time to increase it from two traffic lanes to three.
Krueger’s argument is that the City’s Major Thoroughfare Plan (MTP) shows Bagby as a three lane street and the new project design would make it a two lane street.
With construction permitted and ongoing for 100 days, sources close to the issue say Krueger sent a letter to the Midtown Redevelopment Authority (MRA) to stop construction and call a meeting. At the meeting Krueger reportedly outlined his problems with the project and told the group that the project had to have three lanes.
He was later told that the redesign would add $700,000 to the project cost and he is said to have responded that that was inaccurate and more work needed to be done on the estimate.
As word got out, a source says, Public Works told the MRA to slow down, not stop the construction, but “stay out of the street.”
Another source, at City Hall, who was “confident that the project will be built as designed” nevertheless suggested that Krueger was digging in and “hanging his hat on the MTP.”
The Redevelopment Authority will meet tomorrow, June 28, at 12:30 and Bagby is an agenda item. The engineers for the project, Walter P. Moore, are slated to make a “design modification request.”
The meeting is open to the public and will be held at 410 Pierce Street, Suite 355.
On Tuesday, Dan Barnum, the chair of Houston Tomorrow and one of the co-founders of the Midtown Redevelopment Authority, spoke to City Council about the matter. He said he had been told by friends who are “close to the Midtown management” that construction had been halted. He said he was later informed by Midtown that that was not the case.
Barnum noted that traffic studies by the project engineers had shown there was no need for a third lane now or in the distant future.
Council member Wanda Adams commented that she took the issue to the Mayor’s office and was told that construction had not stopped.
Mayor Parker said “One of the things that we constantly struggle with is that as soon as bad information gets out on Twitter and blogs and email it’s really hard to get the right information out. The Public Works director did have a series of questions about the project, as to whether it had been appropriately presented at the beginning as to the actual construction and whether it was proceeding, I think, according to the original plans. Those questions are being answered this week but permits were not pulled, construction was not stopped.”
Council member Mike Lassiter asked Barnum, “So, there was already a design, there was a designed project, there was a project being constructed in accordance with that design, which would have made it into a more pedestrian-friendly street, but for some reason that has slowed down and now we’re trying to figure out how to get it back on track, is that correct?” Barnum replied yes, that was his understanding.
Lassiter asked the Mayor “After we’ve begun a project on the basis of engineering studies and contracts is it a usual and customary activity in the middle of construction to halt, change, or renew something?”
Mayor Parker replied: “No, it’s not.”
Mayor Parker later suggested that possibly Council would have to act retroactively to change the Major Thoroughfare Plan.
She also said “We’re all working to make this a Complete Streets project and it is the desire of the neighborhoods to make it a Complete Streets green project, much more pedestrian friendly”
The Mayor noted “What happened, was the Public Works director, I think, was surprised, called a meeting, had a whole series of questions, and you know the Public Works director, he tends to be rather terse and I think that there may been an overreaction.” She did not specify who might have overreacted.
Council member Oliver Pennington said that he had a conversation with Public Works and “I think you have everybody’s attention, Mr. Barnum.”
One group whose attention the issue has is engineers and others who do projects for the City, some of whom have worried to Houston Tomorrow that this would form a dangerous precedent, if one public official could step in in the middle of construction of a project that has already been permitted and just stop it or call for redesign, thus escalating the costs. One consultant said that kind of activity would force consultants to consider building the cost of that kind of uncertainty into their bids.
The Council video segment is here. Click on the Play arrow on Public Speakers (Part of 3) and go to 36:06.
Houston Tomorrow’s previous story is here.
Midtown’s response is here.
A petition against the changes to the project is here
Tory Gattis blog is here.
The Innerlooped blog post that started the public outcry is here.