Rio Grande Street construction project causing headaches for area residents, businesses

Forrest Milburn

Residents of buildings along Rio Grande Street have experienced months of street repairs and construction projects, resulting in many students complaining about a lack of sleep and blocked roadways as they prepare for finals week.

The construction project along the street — which began in February — stretches from 24th to 26th Streets and affects the eastern portion of the roadway, blocking off entrances and pathways to residential units, and closing off crucial on-street parking spots for area businesses.

“It’s kind of annoying because I can’t take a left on west 25th anymore,” said chemical engineering junior Jesse Xu, who lives at Orange Tree Apartments. “Pedestrian walkways over there are also kind of ‘iffy’ and they close them off.”

Courtney Black, Public Works Department public information specialist, said the current construction is part of a series of renovations on Rio Grande Street that include improving water drainage, area sidewalks and bicycle lanes, as well as the installation of new trees and benches.

The project is currently in its beginning stages, while the final plan includes revitalizing the street all the way to 29th, Black said.

In 2006, Austin voters approved a proposition allocating $103.1 million in tax-supported bonds and notes for construction projects that aim to improve many of the city’s impaired streets and sidewalks, with Rio Grande included in the city’s targets, Black said. 

Austin-based DeNucci Constructors, the company heading the project, declined to comment on this story. 

The project is currently blocking entrances, pathways and parking areas for Metro Realty, 512 Realty and the Delta Gamma sorority house, as well as Orange Tree Apartments.

With finals week fast approaching, Orange Tree residents complained about having to study in other buildings and losing sleep because construction starts at around 8 a.m. and ends at 5 or 6 p.m..

512 Realty broker Alan Ware, who works across the street from the construction site, said his realty group has not been impacted as much as other area businesses except for some blocked-off on-street parking sites.

“Austin on-street parking is terrible in this part of town,” Wear said. “[Actually] anywhere in Austin, parking is terrible.”

Ware’s business will be more affected when construction turns to the west side of the roadway, he added.

When asked whether the city or construction officials have explained the details and timeline of the construction project, Ware said they have done so “not very well.”

The Public Works Department has not seen many direct complaints, except for one from a female student complaining of construction beginning too early in the morning, Black said.

“We have been in contact with property management or property owners in the area so they get regular mailers and updates about construction,” Black said. “Everything’s going really well, there haven’t been any unexpected circumstances. We’re on time, and it’s going great.”

The current portion of the project should be completed sometime this summer, with the entirety of the Rio Grande revitalization expected to wrap up by summer 2017, Black said.