Following about a three-month delay, city officials expressed the importance of making timelines clear to any consultant selected in the downtown Weatherford bypass project.
The bypass project aims to bring back the original historic downtown square — developing Heritage Square as a livable downtown with entertainment, restaurants and pedestrian-friendly walkways — by moving through traffic away from downtown and truck traffic to the Ric Williamson Memorial Highway loop.
Phase 1, the northern bypass, starts at Santa Fe Drive and goes to East Spring Street and curves at West Bridge Street, moving south at Waco Street.
The funding for Phase 1 was initially intended to be available at the end of September or early October of 2020; however, it is now set to be available by the end of this month.
“We submitted the AFA, Advanced Funding Agreement, to TxDOT back in late August, early September, and we’ve just now worked out all the kinks with it,” Weatherford’s Director of Capital Projects Terry Hughes said at Tuesday’s city council meeting. “Part of that is due to the COVID crisis that has slowed down what the normal processes are and has cost us a couple of months in this entire timeline.”
The north bypass budget is set at $16.59 million.
Hughes said as soon as the AFA is finalized, the city will seek a state and federal Letter of Authority and once that is received, will then have access to the funds. In March, the city will go through the selection process in hiring a consulting firm with a contract set to be approved sometime in April.
“We want to make sure that whoever we select is a great fit for Weatherford not only on the technical side but on the personal side in how they interact with this community and how well they know our community,” Hughes said. “That’s extremely important to us.”
Weatherford Place 4 Councilmember Kevin Cleveland encouraged Hughes and his team to hold stricter deadlines on the items that will be in the city’s control.
“We’re reaching a point in the timelines where we have some ability to control a lot of the items and possibly make up or hold stricter to the timelines,” he said. “[Applicants] are really quick to tell you what you want to hear when they’re being selected, but after they sign the contract all of a sudden the emails take a little longer and phone calls don’t get returned as fast. We are trying to get something done that’s already moving a little slow and we don’t need to compound that.”
Weatherford Mayor Paul Paschall agreed with Cleveland, saying there needs to be established deliverables in the relationship with consultants.
“They need to understand what our expectation is up front. If they can’t agree to that, if they can’t meet that, they need to discuss that on the front side and renegotiate or meet the deadlines in the criteria established,” he said. “We do see those things change after contracts are established — over time we’ve seen those things — and we’re all busy, we’re all dealing in unique circumstances, we’re all dealing with COVID, but we all still have to deliver.
“That needs to be made very clear to them and hopefully in a structure in writing that contractually binding to them and there should be a consequence for not delivering those items. That’s the world we all operate in.”
Hughes said they can incorporate that into the contract.
Phase 2, the southern bypass, has a budget of about $9.416 million and Hughes said he is projecting the funds to move toward the city in November.
“[Phase 2] has kind of dropped to the side for the last few months,” he said. “In November of last year, the RTC approved placing the southern part of the bypass into the Transportation Improvement Program with funding in the amount of $10,384,040 coming from a state transportation block grant. Part of that $10 million will be $1,892,536 of transportation development credit. That money is not available to us right this minute, there’s a process.”
Phase 2, uses Waco Street and curves at Columbia Street to create the southern bypass.
Phase 3 is renovating the courthouse square to be Heritage Square.
“We’ll be trying to figure out exactly what we’re going to do with the Heritage Square and some possible funding scenarios moving forward with that,” Hughes said. “That’s where we are at this point.”