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Severity of area road project delays varies: Review finds small number of contractors on time

By Jimmy Isaac jisaac@news-journal.com
Aug. 27, 2011 at 11 p.m.


Some roadwork contractors keep to tight schedules - and some don't.

Monthly construction updates from the Texas Department of Transportation show a wide variance in performance among companies that have won contracts for area road projects. And work on Texas 149 illustrates the disparities among contractors as much as any of the projects.

According to TxDOT, Knife River Corp.-South is more than 20 days beyond its 84-day work schedule for grade work, surfacing, pavement markings and other improvements on Texas 149 between the Union Pacific railroad and the Rusk County line.

The company began work on the $3.18 million project March 15 - nearly three months after TxDOT opened the project.

Meanwhile, Longview Bridge and Road was to begin its $3.37 million Texas 149 project to reconstruct the intersection at Eastman Road and Estes Parkway and to upgrade guide signs on Interstate 20 immediately after its July 15 start date.

On Aug. 19, the News-Journal emailed North Dakota-based Knife River Corp.-South Operations Vice President Tim Driver about delays and problems noticed on Loop 281 construction, where asphalt surfacing does not meet concrete curbs and gutters in most locations.

Driver has not responded to the newspaper's queries.

Other contractors

Using monthly construction updates, the News-Journal surveyed several projects across East Texas and found that Knife River, though late on several prominent projects, is not the king of road delays.

Buffalo-based A.L. Helmcamp has worked to add safety-treated objects and paved shoulders to FM 2609 in Nacogdoches County since February 2008.

According to TxDOT, Helmcamp worked nearly 700 days on a 453-day contract before work was completed, accounting for 141 percent of time used.

On U.S. 79 in Panola County, Helmcamp needed 101 days to complete a 75-day grading and surfacing project near Deberry, records showed.

In Gregg County, Helmcamp has a $2.68 million contract to widen 16 miles of farm roads including FM 349, but it has charged TxDOT for 37 working days on the 154-day contract and performed 3.8 percent of the work, records showed.

A phone call to Helmcamp's Buffalo office Thursday had not been returned by early Friday.

As for Knife River, the company has charged 417 work days on a 360-work-day project to widen and reconstruct Texas 135 near Liberty City. The company started work six weeks after its Dec. 25, 2008, project start date. And the company is on time for the six-mile widening project on Loop 281, the report showed.

Gregg County residents also have complained about delays on Texas 135 and Texas 42, where Tyler-based R.K. Hall Construction's $4.7 million project to widen 3.8 miles of the road between Kilgore and White Oak is at least 80 percent late. According to TxDOT, R.K.

Hall has been charged for 341 working days on a 188-day contract, but it has completed 60 percent of the work.

'Get caught up'

TxDOT Tyler District spokesman Larry Krantz said the monthly construction report, available at txdot.gov, is the official method for determining how far road projects have progressed.

The report is not fail-safe, however, because a contractor could lay hot mix on a road surface in one week and the report would reflect about 30 percent progress in completed work, he said.

"Depending on what paid items are left, they can get caught up pretty quick," Krantz said.

Delays usually occur when contractors bid for similar jobs that their work crews are well-tuned for, Krantz added, and rotate from road project to road project. Other factors, such as calendar days versus work days, can factor into delays or a contractor being on time.

"There are contractors who manage their business effectively and only bite off what they can chew," he said. "Some contractors, because times are tight, are probably overextending themselves because they want to keep their employees working."

Though contract delays are "not being prosecuted as vigorously as anyone would like," Krantz said, he reminded state taxpayers that TxDOT must accept the lowest among all bids from qualified contractors, regardless of their record. No matter the delay, the state pays nothing beyond the contract price for a project.

"Unless there are extenuating circumstances ... If we start time and they won't show up for a month, it doesn't mean they get that month back," he said. "It means they have to go out there and get it."

Longview company

Longview Bridge and Road tends to begin most projects within a month of a contract's start date, according to TxDOT.

On a Texas 154 project in Wood County, the Longview firm is 93 percent complete on work and charged 68 working days on a 72-day contract, after crews began work within 10 days of a March 26 start date.

Its $2.3 million bridge rehab project in Bowie County is 52 percent completed with 51 percent of the days charged, after crews began work nine days after the contract began.

Loop 49 in Smith County, perhaps one of East Texas' most watched projects, is also under Longview Bridge and Road's care. The firm began construction of a 6.6-mile segment between Texas 155 and Texas 31 west of Tyler on Aug. 6, 2009, and has charged 62 percent of the 812 contract days and performed 64 percent of the work, reports showed.

Another segment, between Texas 110 and FM 756 south of Tyler, is 56.7 percent finished versus 60 percent of time charged on Longview Bridge and Road's 608-contract-day job.

Longview Bridge and Road has nine ongoing projects in TxDOT's nine-county Lufkin District totaling nearly $20.7 million. On Sept. 1, work time begins on $20.2 million in road projects in two Tyler District counties.

In Cass County, grading, structural base and surfacing work is planned for U.S. 59 at its intersection with FM 3129. In Upshur County, the same work is set for U.S. 271 at Texas 155 South in Gilmer, with trees, shrubs and irrigation planned. Longview Bridge and Road has 770 contract working days.

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