Tuesday, February 03, 2009

“It did not meet the requirement we need to show they could drill safely in the levees and not damage their integrity."

Drilling denial may mean Trinity River toll road delays


Copyright 2009

DALLAS - Time is literally money in the planning and building of the Trinity River toll road.

The project is slated to cost $1.8 billion, and each month of delay adds $10 million to the price tag.

But as of Monday night, the North Texas Tollway Authority has yet to get approval for some tests that could force the project to miss a critical deadline.

Sunday night, the Army Corps of Engineers told the NTTA it cannot drill yet in the levee to do important soil tests. The tests are required for the roadway design that's due May 1 in order for the project to stay on schedule.

For the third time, the Corps of Engineers said it denied permission to NTTA to drill down about 70 feet through the east levee for soil samples.

The city has been pushing the NTTA to finish the boring.

"[It's a] terrible disappointment," said city council member Mitchell Rasansky.

Gene Rice, with the Corps, said the latest NTTA plan put the levee at risk.

“It did not meet the requirement we need to show they could drill safely in the levees and not damage their integrity," he said.

However, TxDOT won approval from the Corps to get soil samples for the new Interstate 30 bridge.

“We can get approval; we just haven't been able to get it yet," said Sherita Coffelt, an NTTA spokesperson. "A lot of time these processes commonly require a bit of back and forth.”

The city said it hopes the Corps approves a drilling plan this week and thinks the May 1 deadline can be still be met for turning over the road design to the Corps.

"Like I say, a couple of days I feel like we can make that time up in some way,” said Rebecca Dugger, who leads the Trinity River Corridor Project office.

But, that's not what the city said a week ago when Jill Jordan, the assistant city manager and Dugger's boss, discusses what would happen if the Corps didn't approve the soil sample drilling immediately.

"It is something the Corps needs to do this week, otherwise it will throw us behind,” Jordan said.

With the city paying millions for the design work, delay is money for the project first approved by voters in 1998.

The city, Corps and NTTA will meet Tuesday to try and agree on a drilling plan.

The toll road is scheduled for completion in late 2013.

E-mail bwatson@wfaa.com

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