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The City of Wharton’s 2020 Street Improvement Project has been years in the making and the fact that a major weather event from three years ago made matters worse is the reason there are more smiles around Wharton City Hall these days.

Now leaders hope those smiles will translate over to Wharton residents next week when the project finally begins. The Street Improvement Project cost, which includes areas associated the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), is just under $950,000.

This is a street project that many local residents put together from 2017, 2018 and 2019 programs that were never completed. Past and present members of the Public Works Committee, the Wharton City Council, and city staff put in many hours discussing and formulating ideas the past few years to come up with this plan that was approved in March by elected officials.

It might be called the “2020 Street Improvement Project,” but City Manager Andres Garza said it is not a one-time project. Earlier this spring, Garza said when funding becomes available again, the city staff will look to find ways to expand the street project and pass along the information to the public work committee and city council.

There are city crews and temporary crews being used for this major undertaking.

According to the city’s finance department, the current COVID-19 pandemic and its affect on the local economy did force a hiring freeze. But, since the city did budget ahead of time for a temporary crew, it did not affect this street project.

Funding the project

The project that includes dozens of Wharton streets began under current Public Works Director John Plaia’s tenure. The city has gone through several directors since 2017, including an interim.

But that wasn’t the snag. The major snag not only for the city staff, but also for the city council was finding a company to bid on the project that was willing to stay within Wharton’s budget. When the city council did receive a response, it was one bid a month. And, the bids were much more than the city staff had budgeted.

This happened several times during council meetings in 2019.

In one of the council meetings in April last year, the city received only one bid from DIJ Construction in the amount of $1.195 million. The following month, one bid came in from Rexco Construction Services, Inc. for $1.445 million.

These were just some examples of how much the bids exceeded the budget. At the time, Garza said the construction budget for the project was $825,000 to $850,000. This did not include areas in Wharton affected by Hurricane Harvey that were funded through FEMA. 

At the time, the city’s Community Development Director Gwyn Teves conversed with BEFCO Engineering to review the scope of work, associated costs and time frame for re-bidding the project. 

Garza spoke to BEFCO’s Bradley Loeher about re-bidding the FEMA streets in August. City staff reached out to FEMA for an extension of the project for the FEMA streets.

Now that is all behind them, Garza said there are many streets that are being reconstructed, but adds there is also emphasis being placed on the streets that need protection right now.

In March, Plaia told Garza that the city street department would be doing repairs and level ups during the summer, and setup a transition for a seal coat to complete this project by the fall.

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