Despite major delays and challenges, an "aggressive" approach to construction means the widening of Highway 146 will likely finish over a year ahead of schedule, an official working on the project said.
During a Bay Area Houston Transportation Partnership webinar Nov. 30, Will Bradley, senior project manager with Webber LLC, the construction contractor, said he expects the Highway 146 project to finish in May 2023, a year ahead of the June 2024 deadline. So far, work is 45% done, but Webber has used only 34% of its allotted time to complete the project.
"We wanna be ahead on work and not using all the time allotted to us," Bradley said. "This means we're ahead of schedule."
When complete, the existing Highway 146 bridge over Clear Lake will have three lanes in each direction between Red Bluff Road and Highway 96.
Additionally, on the bridge's west side will be two express bridges: one with two northbound lanes and one with two southbound lanes. Both will allow drivers to circumvent local traffic on the main bridge.
The Texas Department of Transportation's original idea for the $201 million project was to split it into four sequential phases. Instead, Webber worked on phases simultaneously to progress work faster. The only stipulation was Webber had to allow for at least two lanes of traffic in both directions, which it has, Bradley said.
"We took advantage of that, and that's why we're able to get this reduced schedule," he said.
While working, Webber ran into several snags that would have delayed the project had the company not been working on multiple phases at once.
Part of the project includes relocating an Enterprise pipeline that runs from Red Bluff Road to Highway 96. This was supposed to be done by May but will not be completed until March, Bradley said.
The pipeline relocation delay is holding up Webber from creating drill shafts for the foundation of part of the express lane bridges. Webber has done all the work it can in the area in the meantime and is working with TxDOT to come up with alternative solutions and a potential redesign, especially if Enterprise does not remove the existing pipeline once a new one is built, Bradley said.
Additionally, AT&T and CenterPoint were supposed to relocate utilities by February 2019, but this work is still incomplete nearly two years later, delaying some parts of the widening project, Bradley said.
"We're finding ways to work around those," he said.
Finally, Webber has widened Highway 146's northbound lanes on both sides of the channel, but there is a gap over Clear Lake. This is because when Webber contractors tried to put piles in the water, they hit an obstruction.
After hiring someone to use sonar to see what they were hitting, Webber discovered an old drawbridge once stood there and was demolished, but its foundation was not removed from the lake. Webber is now working to install drill shafts through the obstruction to allow them to finish widening the existing Highway 146 bridge over the lake, Bradley said.
"We're excited to be doing this project," Bradley said. "It's complicated, though. There's a lot of issues."