Sorry, but I feel once again compelled to write about street construction. I feel compelled, because our needs are so great. I also feel compelled because the projects underway are so noticeable and omnipresent, and these projects are the subjects of most of my conversations with citizens. I also feel compelled because the sound of back-up alarms and roaring engines blasting through my office walls and windows is also a constant reminder, not to mention my daily treks through the muck and mire… not that I’m complaining…
Last month, and in November of last year, I gave you the details on most of the projects that are underway, and why they are necessary. If you go to the city’s website at http://www.seguintexas.gov and click on “Mayor’s Message” you can read where I have written about the what, why and where of all the current and planned projects. You can also scroll down the bottom left side of the home paged to “Construction Updates” for official departmental notices.
In this piece, I will try and explain a bit more about how we are addressing the challenges we face in getting things done, rather than discussing the specific projects.
We have more public works projects going on now than ever before in the history of this city. This unprecedented amount of de-construction and re-construction will continue for longer than I or anyone else can predict. Our streets and infrastructure are just plain worn out, we’ve got to fix them, and we’ve got to fix them all.
Our biggest challenge in all this is prioritizing the projects. Where the heck do you begin? Also, we have to balance the need with the expense.
Another challenge is to have enough competent staff on hand to plan and supervise the projects through their duration.
Our public works staff has been stretched to the limit recently due to all the projects in process. To help ease some of the immediate load, we added a utility engineer position to assist our city engineer, Joe Ramos, with all the new infrastructure projects dealing with water, sewer and electricity.
A couple of weeks ago, Joe gave City Council a thorough briefing on all the current and planned projects. We were also given a brief lesson on how to judge street conditions, what causes street deterioration, and how streets should be maintained to prevent expensive repairs. One of the things we learned was that it is cheaper to properly maintain an existing road that appears to be in good condition, rather than to wait a few years, and have to spend a lot more money rebuilding it.
I know this will be controversial. We’ve started maintenance operations on some streets that appear to have no problems at all. Crews will be performing a procedure called “chip sealing” on several streets that appear to be in perfectly good condition. I know plenty of folks will be upset that their pot-holed mess of a street is being ignored while we are wasting time and money on good streets. I understand their frustration, but we are just spending a few dollars now, to prevent spending a lot more dollars later.
As I said above, where the heck do you begin? This summer, we will have engineering interns out on every single street in Seguin. Armed with special software, they will be quantifying the condition of every single foot of every street, including sidewalks, and the buried infrastructure under those streets.
Once the data are gathered and sorted, we can place all these needs in a prioritized list.
I have a funny feeling that many folks won’t like where their respective street ends up in in the priority list.
I also have a funny feeling that many folks won’t understand how much this is all going to cost.
I thank you all for your kind patience while this all takes place. Like I say, we will do as much as we can, to what we can, as soon as we can, with what we’ve got.
Gosh, I love this town!
Folks, we are into it now! The city if fully engulfed in construction barriers, traffic diversions, mud, and dust. As much as we need new streets and infrastructure, it is always a miserable pain in the posterior while it is being constructed.
In my November column last fall, I tried to prepare everyone for the misery and inconvenience that will be caused by all this construction. No matter how many of these projects we do, the ugliness of construction is never fully realized or understood until it is underway.
It doesn’t help matters when virtually every scoop from a backhoe could reveal some hidden surprise, causing further delays.
To complicate matters further, it doesn’t help when a sinkhole appears unexpectedly in the middle of a Court Street bridge, and we have to funnel traffic down to 2 lanes. Believe me, this was not planned. All of Mountain Street traffic was already diverted to Court Street, due to the construction, so the traffic is practically double the normal flow – with 2 fewer lanes.
Since Court Street is a State/Federal highway, we had to await TxDOT instructions on what to do. We were told that the material surrounding the culverts under the bridge had eroded due to flowing water, causing the sinkhole. Instead of excavating from the road surface to replace the culverts, we were instructed to hydraulically “ram” new culverts into place, and surround them with a grout to fill the eroded cavities.
Without going into all the details about old building methods and aging clay sewer lines, suffice it to say that installing the culverts from below was not the right call. Also, complicating things was the discovery of an old underground “millrace”, which is basically a tunnel lined with bricks and rocks that was used to move water to a gristmill that was nearby on the creek. According to the archeologist at TxDOT, the millrace was probably built in the 1870’s.
It also doesn’t help when substandard, unmapped water lines and sewer lines are routinely uncovered. All these lines have to be investigated, traced and replaced and/or re-routed if necessary.
It doesn’t help when cold lingering light rains turn road base material into peanut butter. This “peanut butter” then gets spread all over town by traffic, then turns to dust when the rains finally leave.
Then there are the residents who are directly along the route of all this. You might think it’s inconvenient to drive through the mess, or around it. Can you imagine having to live right in the middle of it? When the weather is gray, cold, and wet and you are surrounded by muck, and you can’t park in front of your home… life can be pretty miserable. Then when the rain finally ends and it dries out, you are engulfed in dust. Then comes the constant cacophony of back-up alarms, jackhammers, and revving engines!
I can empathize with all this misery, because I’m speaking from experience here. My business office is smack-dab in the middle of all this. I live it every day. I can’t wear good shoes to work. Clients on the phone think I’m in a war zone. I can’t park in front of my office. River Street is now a 3-foot deep canyon. There is no hard surface access to my property. Thank God I don’t have walk-in trade. Since my residence is located near Heideke Street, my misery will continue beyond 2017!
Yes, I know there are some folks in Oak Village North who are taking a bit of pleasure in my “suffering” right now. There’s a great German word for feeling that way – “schadenfreude”. I don’t blame them. They went through unimagined discomfort. I know how that feels.
The problem is that nobody has yet devised a way to install infrastructure and roads without making a very big mess.
Dealing with a relentless mess day-in and day-out makes it hard to maintain a positive attitude. It wears on your soul. So to all those citizens who are directly affected by this construction, I thank you for maintaining your kind patience, and ask that you keep looking ahead a few months. Imagine what a beautiful new street you will have, and imagine what a beautiful city we will have when we finish all the rest.
Gosh I love this town!
People ask me all the time about what’s new, what’s happening and what’s exciting going on in the city. What most people refer to as “exciting” is usually something related to restaurants, retail, a new housing development, or a new large employer coming to town.
I get as excited as anybody else about those things too, but many folks really don’t know how or why these things happen in our town.
They don’t just pop up out of the blue. Everything happens for a reason.
Yes, we market, advertise, and promote. But once we get the attention of prospects, they want to see how well the city is run. They especially pay attention to how the city’s finances are managed, and how responsible the staff and city council are with taxpayer dollars.
A few times last month, when I was asked what was new and exciting, I replied “Our utility revenue bonds have been upgraded from A to A+!” … That comment was usually met with a look of puzzlement and glazed eyes. Yes, I know it’s not exactly a new HEB or Target that everyone wants to see happen, but things like bond ratings are vitally important in keeping a city vibrant and growing. These utility revenue ratings have a direct effect on how much it costs for us to borrow money for our utility maintenance and improvements. They are paid back to the lender with the revenue we receive for the utility services provided by the city. This is just one of the reasons we can boast of some of the most competitive utility rates in the area.
You might remember that a year ago, I wrote about our general obligation bonds being upgraded from A+ to AA-. These are bonds that are backed by the full faith and credit of the city, and are paid by your taxes.
Because our bond ratings have been upgraded, and our financial reputation is sound, we have been able to borrow money at a lower rate, and also to effectively “refinance” a lot of our existing debt, saving you, the taxpayers, millions of dollars in the process. The new ratings have also had the added effect of bringing down the costs of the new bonds just issued by our water corporation, SSLGC, for the expansion of its water pipeline system.
These great ratings are brought about by the difficult and sometimes mundane work that goes on every day at City Hall, performed by a group of dedicated city employees that go mostly unnoticed by the general public for the great work they do.
Our City Manager, Doug Faseler, and our Director of Finance, Susan Caddell, do a masterful job of putting all the various pieces of this giant puzzle together. Every year, their work is placed under a virtual microscope by an independent auditing firm to assure that the city’s books are true and correct.
It is this sound financial information that we can then present to firms like Fitch and S&P to obtain the excellent ratings we can now boast about.
A few months ago, I attended a financial workshop of my peers from around the state, and I was shocked that many small cities in Texas are not audited regularly by an outside entity. I guess you can see how that could lead to all kinds of corruption – both real and imagined! Seguin is fortunate that these audits are a matter of course, and part of the culture within our city staff and government.
People and businesses here, and those that would like to locate here, can be assured that their tax dollars are being spent wisely, and that their city staff and elected officials are acting ethically and responsibly with the city’s money.
There are not many small towns in this state that can offer the high degree of financial confidence that can be found right here in Seguin.
Gosh, I love this town!
Gosh I love this town!
Those of you who read this column regularly know that I always end my column with that exclamation. I had to start from that point of view today because the past month has been such an incredibly “Wonderful” time for both Seguin, and for me personally as mayor.
Since it’s the Christmas Season, I’m going to stray away from the usual city business stuff, and wander into the “quality of life” side of things, and plug one of my favorite pet projects – The Texas Theatre.
As many of you know, I and my wife Marty have been deeply involved in the restoration and management of The Texas Theatre for many years. With the exception of a few rock n roll cameos; I have never performed before an audience - Until a few weeks ago.
Yes, I performed on stage at The Texas in “It’s a Wonderful Life – The Musical”. It was kind of a stretch – I played the mayor of Bedford Falls. I didn’t have many lines, but I had quite a bit of chorus stage time. It was an amazing experience that I will never forget.
Sheila Lucas is one of the most talented director/actor/producers in this part of the country, and one of the most wonderfully manipulative people I have ever known. From the beginning, she asked me to play the mayor. I immediately said no – actually, I said something stronger than that. It’s something I just didn’t have time for. After all, I have a real city to worry about. She pretended not to hear me.
Rehearsals were scheduled. I explained I couldn’t be there, and she should find someone else. She said, “don’t worry – you’ll be fine”. I responded that I just couldn’t do it. She said, “don’t worry, you’ll be fine”. So I squeezed in some rehearsals, made some schedule changes, quit worrying, and I think I was fine.
Sheila is retired from the Seguin ISD, and is on our Theatre Board of Directors. For more than a year, she had tried to get the board to bring “It’s a Wonderful Life – The Musical” to the theatre. Most of us on the board didn’t think she was serious.
We thought that a musical with a cast of over 30 people, with multiple scene changes and a complicated musical score would be impossible on our limited stage with tiny wing space and no backstage, and no sound system. Not to mention the cast of over 30 people – that can all sing and act. Many had to dance as well.
But the board gave in, and Sheila went to work. We added a new sound system earlier in the year, which helped, she then devised ways to move props in and out of our limited spaces.
Where did she find all these talented people? She found them in Seguin! The leading lady, Johanna Bain Johnson is from Stockdale, but she’s been in so many productions here that she is almost a native. Kyle Krambeck who played the lead as George Bailey, is a Seguin HS graduate now attending Texas State. I’m not going to mention any other names, simply because I don’t have the room, and I don’t want to leave anyone out.
Most of the younger members of the cast are former students of Sheila’s, who seem to be able to read her mind, and respond amazingly to her direction. The technical crew that worked the lights, sound, props and curtains were either Sheila’s former students or present students at Seguin High School.
That is another reason to love this town! All this talent – this incredible talent - is from Seguin!
This cast and crew of over 30 people gave up most of their spare time for over 2 months, with no monetary compensation, to bring this incredible Christmas gift to their fellow citizens. It is the very essence of the joy of living in a small town – a small town that cares.
It is beyond my ability to describe how impressed, and proud, and grateful I am by the wonderfully talented group of people who were assembled to make this production possible.
Merry Christmas Seguin!
And I’ll say it again - Gosh I love this town!
This is the season of Thanksgiving, and this year I am thankful for something rather unusual – dust! Yes, dust means that we are finally getting off the dime with many of our projects, and we are moving forward as a city.
In big cities, the signs of prosperity and growth are the sight of construction cranes along the skyline. In smaller towns like Seguin, prosperity and growth are represented by bulldozers, excavators and torn up streets – and dust.
It is inconvenient. It is dusty, dirty, and noisy. But it has to be done. (I might add that it is nice to see a lot of Caterpillar equipment doing this work. Maybe some of those machines have Seguin-built engines in them!)
What’s happening along River Street and Mountain Street near downtown now is really only the beginning.
Seguin is going to be subjected to a lot of this activity for the next several years.
Yes, I said years - not months. We’ve got an awful lot to fix, and we’ve got an awful lot to add. It will make an awful lot of dust and an awful lot of mess, and create an awful lot of frustration, but it is something we must endure to improve things.
I may have discussed some of this in a previous column, and you know how I feel about our lousy streets, but many people are still unaware of the extent and purpose of what we are trying to accomplish. Just to give you an idea of what’s ahead, here are a few of the projects on the board now.
The most visible project now is the River, San Marcos and Heideke Streets project. Phase 1 on River Street will be completed in mid 2015. Phase 2 will then begin on San Marcos Street from Court to Kingsbury for completion in 2016. Phase 3 on Heideke Street will also stretch from Court to Kingsbury, and will be the last part of this project, which will probably take us well into 2017 or longer.
Many of you are asking why the traffic cones and lane diversions are on East Court Street. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has informed us that a void has developed around a culvert beneath the road surface, and a sink hole was developing on the roadway. This is a TxDOT project, so we do not have direct control over it. However, we will continue to urge TxDOT to repair this problem as soon as possible. It is doubly inconvenient, since traffic on East Court has increased due to the closing of Mountain Street.
After many delays due to problems with right-of-way acquisition, the North Austin Street project will begin next year. This is another major TxDOT project. The City will take advantage of this opportunity to add new storm drainage and replace all utilities while TxDOT lowers and widens the road surface, and adds sidewalks.
The improvements to the SH46 at IH10 intersection along with the access roads along IH10 will be bid out in April 2015, and will probably begin construction later in the year for completion in 2016.
While all this is going on, we have several sewer and water main replacements and extensions, sidewalk projects, overlaying Vaughan Street near Park West, and the Walnut Branch trail construction.
Add all this to the construction of Park West, the new Library, the new WalMart and related pad sites, Meadows at Nolte Farms, Greenspoint, and site work for the new Siro Group facility.
I didn’t even mention downtown, and the great things going on with the wonderful restorations that are happening. That will probably require a whole column in the future.
As you can see, there will be much dust swirling around Seguin for many years to come, and I for one, am very thankful.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
Gosh, I love this town!
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