City officials, community members work to improve West Campus construction safety

Ali Juell, Senior News Reporter

Compared to many areas of Austin, West Campus sees a higher volume of pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles. As more and more developments pop up to fulfill student housing needs, city officials and community members are working to increase West Campus residents’ construction safety awareness.

José Roig, interim director of Austin Development Services, said Austin’s regulations largely focus on safeguards that prevent trespassing and protect walkways near construction sites, so on-site safety is primarily the responsibility of a project’s safety coordinator. 

Following the recent death of Michael Delgado, who was hit by falling debris from a West Campus construction site while riding his bike, the Delgado’s family attorney Aaron Von Flatern said his firm hopes to further investigate and find answers for the family.

“We already know this was a highly preventable event,” Von Flatern said in an email. “Construction companies have to do a better job of securing the growing number of elevated job sites surrounding UT’s campus and all over Austin. There are so many students and Austin residents living in the shadow of high-rise construction just like this.”

With the number of new apartment developments in the West Campus area, Roig said students should not expect construction to decrease any time soon. He said he hopes to encourage better construction safety management in Austin as a whole.

“It is everyone’s responsibility (on a project) … to ensure that they have a safe place not only for the workers, but also for the people around the building,” Roig said.

Roig said his department is currently working with Austin developers and SafeHorns, a non-profit led by UT parents, to create greater construction safety for not only West Campus but also the city as a whole. 

SafeHorns president Joell McNew said she’s heard multiple instances of safety risks posed by West Campus construction from students, and she hopes her conversations with Development Services will improve construction safety.

“The higher we make these towers and residential properties, we want to make sure that there is a plan and that students know to report any concerning debris falling construction issues,” McNew said. 

Development Services plans to launch a social media campaign focused on individual awareness around construction sites to encourage people to notice and stay aware of potential safety risks, Roig said. In addition to their campaign, Roig said Development Services plans to focus on releasing more weather updates that encourage construction workers to tie down construction materials to prevent debris and other safety risks.

Roig said West Campus residents should reach out to the department directly if they see unsafe construction practices. 

“We have to care about the safety of the students and people that are walking in (West Campus),” Roig said.