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Dallas Set to Push Back on Contractors Amid Construction Boom

The noise, literal and figurative, is unavoidable. Downtown residents, having just been awakened by a truck driving over one of the steel plates that patch one of the neighborhood's streets under construction, take to Facebook to commiserate about another lost hour of sleep.

"Because of AT&T construction, traffic is being diverted down the pedestrian walk of Browder along side my apartment building," Austin Gauley wrote on the Downtown Residents Council group page in November. "There's metal plates in the way (don't know if they are there to cover things up or not) but they bang loudly all night long as cars roll over them."

More than two years earlier, in March 2016, Karen Blankenship shared a similar complaint related to ongoing construction near the Statler Hotel.

"Will someone talk to the Statler about the big metal cover in the road? It is awfully loud when cars run over it and has been all weekend," she told the group. "It echoes every single time through the atrium at 1900 Elm. Surely there is something they can do to quiet it."

When Gauley and Blankenship complained, and still today, that was all they could really do. Changes could be coming, however, thanks to years of advocacy from downtown City Council representative Philip Kingston and proposed changes to Dallas' right-of-way ordinances from city staff.

“I think it’s appropriate to push and see how far we can get in terms of making them responsive to the needs of pedestrians and residents downtown.” — Philip Kingston

Dallas' new right-of-way plan would penalize any construction company that fails to properly secure the steel plates it is using, leading to noise complaints or vibration. Additional changes would require companies  to provide sidewalk detours or walkways during construction and scaffolding or temporary walkways when construction is not taking place.

They would no longer be allowed to block off pedestrian traffic for months, even when construction activity is not taking place, as has frequently happened in downtown Dallas over recent years. The city also intends to limit work on streets, sidewalks and alleys to the same hours — 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. — that apply to building construction, answering another frequent complaint of residents of high-construction areas.

"These companies can be leaned on to be more responsible, because their profit margins are sky high," Kingston said, pointing to Dallas' construction boom. "I think it's appropriate to push and see how far we can get in terms of making them responsive to the needs of pedestrians and residents downtown."

In addition to requiring construction companies to be friendlier to Dallas residents, Kingston and other council members told staff Wednesday that the city needs to hold the contractors it hires accountable. If a firm given a road construction project does shoddy or slow work, outgoing Pleasant Grove representative Rickey Callahan said, they shouldn't get any more city contracts. 

"I want to make sure as these contractors continue to get contracts with the city that their performance standards are high," Callahan said. "If they're not, I want them jettisoned from the process."

Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.

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