When Pat Ryan asks a question, it's often about road construction.
The Ward 8 city councilman represents far north Oklahoma City, where work zones are common along section-line roads that are being widened to accommodate development.
Over the summer, Ryan commented on the inconvenience of construction delays and suggested the city analyze the time it allots contractors to do a job.
A 2012 audit found that is not as easy as it sounds.
The city auditor's office studied 22 road construction projects completed in 2011, concluding the city lacked the ability to adequately track progress or get street work done in a timely way.
Oklahoma City is doing $70 million a year in improvements, mostly street work, included in a package approved by voters in 2007.
Altogether, voters approved borrowing money for 137 street projects worth nearly $500 million.
More than 750 of the city's 8,151 lane-miles of streets are to be resurfaced, widened or rebuilt.
The city will spend an additional $40 million on bridges, traffic signals and other work.
Dealing with delays
Among the 2011 projects studied by auditors were two street-widening projects that were delayed while the city waited for utilities to be moved.
Waiting on utilities and other delays, some of them unexplained, stretched construction work that should have been done in less than a year into 20-month marathons, the auditors said.
Altogether, the two projects took an average of nearly three years from start of construction to final acceptance of the work.
Auditors suggested city leaders:
Change bidding procedures to balance time against cost, testing how much costs go up when timelines are shortened.
Break street resurfacing projects — which are routinely bundled together to get better prices — into individual pieces.
Define the time allowed for construction in terms of days when traffic will be disrupted “to more explicitly recognize citizen inconvenience.”
Track projects more closely to identify recurring reasons for delays and assess which contractors are the best choices for future work.
Public Works Director Eric Wenger said the city is trying the recommended bidding procedure on a $6.8 million project in north Oklahoma City, where NW 192 Street is being widened east of Pennsylvania Avenue.
With the project only 15 percent complete, whether the new process will save the city money or save residents aggravation is yet to be determined, Wenger said.
‘Work in progress'
Interim deadlines are being written into construction schedules to track progress on resurfacing projects, Wenger said. But he said related work must be offered as a package to make the jobs cost-efficient.
Tracking when work is “substantially complete” — meaning streets are safe to drive with only cosmetic work and minor repairs left to do — should reduce unexplained delays, he said.
Auditors found the 2011 projects stretched on from six to 13 months before the final work could be inspected and the job closed out.
Project managers are watching more closely to see that final bits and pieces of a job are wrapped up in a timely way, Wenger said.
How to avoid delays with utilities. The budget included money this year for a coordinator to work with utilities. The post should be filled soon. Coordinating with utilities “is a work in progress,” Wenger said.
Reducing traffic disruptions by charging a “lane rental” when contractors close lanes to traffic, a strategy to reduce closures. Officials are evaluating how to implement the fee.
In his remarks, Ryan said “the alpha and the omega” of every conversation he has with the Public Works Department about road projects is: “They're within the number of days that were allowed.”
“It still seems like we allow an extraordinarily long time for our contractors to complete these projects,” Ryan said.