Rio Grande construction expected to last until August 2012

Joe Layton

Traveling down Rio Grande Street is even more difficult than usual because of a construction project that a city spokeswoman said is expected to continue until August 2012.

The construction is a part of the Rio Grande Public Works Project, to improve and renovate the street from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to 29th Street. The project, which began in late December, includes the relocation and renovation of utilities under the roadway, new streetlights, curbs, sidewalks, driveways, trees, reconstruction of the intersection at 24th Street and possible modifications to the existing bicycle lane.

Construction workers completed the first part of the project, located at the intersection of Rio Grande and MLK, before the beginning of the spring semester. Construction narrowed MLK to one lane, but the road is now fully operational. Repairs on Rio Grande, from MLK to 24th, started on Jan. 17 and are scheduled for completion in August 2011.

City planners are also designing improvements between 24th and 29th Streets, and the city will soon start accepting bids from independent contractors for the renovation. The projected start date for this segment of Rio Grande is August 2011, around the same time as the projected finish date for the construction from MLK to 24th Street.

City spokeswoman Sara Hartley said the project is a mandatory maintenance project, required for any street that regular maintenance can no longer preserve. At least one lane will always be open, and the city will halt construction during high-traffic times, such as move-in and move-out and during special events.

“The voters approved bonds in 2006 that allowed us to move forward with reconstructing this stretch of Rio Grande,” Hartley said. “This will definitely benefit a very busy corridor running from the University to downtown, by not only improving utilities under the roadway but the surface and the amenities along the street, such as sidewalks, additional trees and improved bicycle facilities.”

Rio Grande project supervisor Derrick Staton described the street’s reconstruction as a “beautification” project. He noted that when completed, the road should look like the newly renovated area of MLK where Pluckers is located. Although it may be inconvenient, most people simply try to avoid the area of Rio Grande that only has one open lane, Staton said.
Psychology senior Cameron Bina said find parking can be stressful, but the construction’s outcome will be worth it.

“The construction has cut off 21st Street past Rio Grande, and it makes parking very difficult because the construction is ripping up the street,” Bina said. “I hear them tearing up the street, and it’s a bit annoying but the noise isn’t that much of an issue. I think the beautification is a positive thing because Austin has a lot of messed up streets and it creates jobs, so the positives outweigh the negatives.”