Naked City

Terror on Restaurant Row

The city is mobilizing forces to send into the war zone -- Barton Springs Road, where businesses have been under siege for two years and orange-alert construction cones and barriers mark the spot known as Restaurant Row.

After several skirmishes over a wastewater pipeline gone wrong, city officials last week delivered a "notice of termination" to Ryan-O Excavating, the contractor of the $5.7 million project. The notice says the company "failed to make adequate progress and endangers successful completion of the contract." The roadwork -- an arduous makeover of Austin's gateway to Zilker Park -- had been delayed by flooding problems but was supposed to have been completed late last year. More troubles arose and the completion date was pushed to April. Now it's May.

Leon Barba, assistant director of the city's Public Works Dept., said Ryan-O's Florida-based bonding company has until March 24 to decide whether to assign another company to the project. Until then, city work crews are on high alert and may be sent in to complete the job. The city's third option would be to hire another contractor. "Ninety percent of the project is finished, which leaves us with about $80,000 worth of work," Barba said.

The final impasse between Ryan-O and the city came over the wastewater line and related costs; the city says the company laid the line incorrectly and ordered the contractor to tear up newly laid asphalt to repair the damage. They gave the contractor a drop-dead deadline last month, only to allow a grace period. "We gave him a directive to get back to work, and he still didn't start," Barba said. "That wasn't acceptable."

Ryan-O Excavating currently has two other contracts with the city -- for a utility job on Airport Boulevard and for street maintenance on U.S. 183 near the airport. Barba said the contractor is on schedule with both projects.

But the Barton Springs Road project may have been cursed to begin with. Many merchants along the road opposed the plan (favored by Zilker neighborhood leaders) because they feared its proposed median -- now a reality -- would limit access to their businesses. The contract cancellation brings little solace to business owners who say the construction has already taken an irreparable bite out of their revenues and left casualties along the way. The little Juice Joint was the latest to succumb after hobbling through two summers -- its high season -- behind barricades.

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