A project to repair and reopen a key South Austin road, delayed for about a year while the city negotiated access to an adjacent creek bed, should be completed by February, city officials said last week.
West Dittmar Road has been closed from South Congress to Loganberry Drive since April 2012 after officials determined that erosion from South Boggy Creek had made the 18-foot-wide, two-lane road unsafe to drive. A bend in the creek, which lies about 15 feet below the road surface at normal flow levels, has moved steadily northward and undermined the pavement.
At some points in that bend, the asphalt has collapsed, has a jagged edge on the creek side and is no more than a dozen feet wide.
City officials last year quickly determined that the creek bed would need permanent stabilization before they repaired the road above. However, the creek bed and the surrounding 24.8 acres belong to RDO Properties, owned by Bobby Joe Ormand, and the city needed to acquire a drainage easement to do the construction.
Last year, city Public Works Department spokeswoman at the time, Sarah Hartley, predicted that the work could be completed by the early 2013. But according to city officials, the landowner balked.
“The property owner did not want to work with us on that” initially, said Carolyn Perez, now the department’s chief spokeswoman.
Ormand said he had been at odds with the city in the past after, looking to evict squatters living on his property, he cleared part of the land. (Most of the tract is devoted to a salvage yard owned by another company on land leased from Ormand.) City officials cited him for disturbing the soil without a permit, and, in a negotiated settlement, Ormand says he agreed to plant a couple hundred trees.
Regarding the delayed road repair, he said, the city “did an end-around” by trying to acquire, for free, maps and other technical data from a company he had hired during the earlier dispute. Upset by that effort, Ormand denied the city access to his land for a survey, and something of a standoff ensued.
“It’s just their way of doing business,” Ormand said. “That’s how it got bogged down.”
John Joseph, an Austin attorney who represented Ormand, said that in the end his client did not haggle over money.
“We accepted the price the city offered,” Joseph said. “We never argued about a dime.”
This summer, the city agreed to pay RDO about $19,500 for a permanent easement for that section of South Boggy Creek, according to city officials. A design to shore up the creek’s north bank with large limestone blocks had been completed in the interim, said Morgan Byars, a civil engineer with the city’s Watershed Protection Department, and work began in mid-August, about two weeks after the easement deal was signed.
That job of shoring up the creek bank, which the city is doing with in-house workers for about $170,000 in time and materials, is about halfway completed, said Roxanne Jackson, the Watershed Department’s field operations manager. Barring other extreme rains as occurred last month — which have forced short shutdowns on the project — Jackson said the creek work should be done by mid-January.
The road repair, Perez said, should take three weeks to a month and will begin shortly after the creek stabilization is complete. The road work, also to be done in-house, should cost an additional $200,000, Perez said.
West Dittmar represents the east end of a complex but important east-west route for South Austinites. It ties into Davis Lane at Manchaca Road and that street, which has several jogs, a dogleg and more than one name, extends across the city to RM 1826. One project underway will eliminate a dogleg at Brodie Lane — that work should be done by late summer 2014, Perez said — and another set to begin soon will cut Davis through a short section of land at Leo Street and remove an awkward set of turns.
That work should be complete in about a year, Perez said, providing another relatively seamless crosstown route about halfway between William Cannon Drive and Slaughter Lane.