Pursuing longer-term construction deals benefits city


Shelby Tauber

Construction workers work on the city of Austin’s Waller Creek Tunnel Project on Wednesday afternoon. The projects goal is to redirect water flow so some areas of downtown would be at less risk of floods.

Rachel Freeman

Jogging at Disch-Falk field or marching into DKR, you’ve probably noticed Waller Creek weaving its way through east campus. As unassuming as the creek may appear, Waller Creek has caused some serious debate. The City is attempting to build a Waller Creek Tunnel to provide Lady Bird Lake additional flood diversion has hit numerous roadblocks, but the project has sparked a legal battle between . the City and the tunnel’s contractor. 

This tunnel project and the millions of dollars it has collectively cost the city, highlights the need  for the city to change the way it does construction. Instead of contracting exclusively on an individual basis, it should pursue long-term construction deals with agencies. Making this change would result in cooperation between the city and the construction agency and ultimately produce more successful projects which better safeguard taxpayer money. 

The Waller Creek Tunnel is supposed to be a one mile channel from Lady Bird Lake which  protects twenty eight acres of downtown from the floodplain. The project was originally approved in 1998 with a budget of $25 million, but over the years due to many delays, the project is costing  $161 million. 

Despite all the money spent, the city is dissatisfied with the result, and has requested a refund of $22.3 million from the construction company, S.J. Louis. The contractor has responded by countersuing. 

One way to disincentivize legal battles and promote general cooperation between the city and construction agencies is to start creating contracts that cover multiple, similar projects.. UT Austin urban policy specialist Professor William Spelman is in favor of creating longer term relationships between city and contractors. “If the contractor knows they have a long term relationship with the city, for not just this project but the next project, they are more likely to listen to the city,” Spelman said. “(Therefore) money spent to meet our standards is an investment into our relationship with our city. ”

UT students pay taxes to the city through our rent, and we should have a reasonable expectation that our tax money be used wisely. Instead the money has been squandered again and again to fund a project that in the end, according to the city, has “diminished value.” 

The majority of campus and the north and west off-campus areas where many students live are represented by Austin District 9. Our current representative, Kathie Tovo, is up for re-election this November. We should collectively pressure her, and anyone else running, to represent us, to advocate for longer-term construction deals. By making some construction deals more long-term in nature both the city and the contractor will be motivated to work together to create successful, on-budget projects.

Freeman is a international relations and global studies junior from Cedar Park.