Contractors pay Austin tens of thousands in work zone violation fees

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The city's Transportation Department has a small staff to perform thousands of inspections.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — It seems like almost everywhere you go in Austin, construction projects are popping up.

In many cases, these projects are blocking streets, sidewalks and bike lanes that are critical to keep traffic moving.

Cage Echarte knows about this all too well.

“Every street corner there’s some kind of construction going on,” he said.

Echarte is a delivery rider in downtown Austin. He tells KXAN he’s on his bike 12 hours per day.

“When talking about riding around these construction projects,” he explained. “There is a lot of ducking and diving going on.”

As of July 19, there were nearly 3500 active permits for projects in the right-of-way, many of them in downtown Austin.

But a KXAN investigation found contractors on these projects are paying the city tens of thousands of dollars for work zone violations.

In the last six months, the most money contractors paid in violation fees was for not having a permit at all. The city made $37,075 from those fees during this period.

Other violations include restricting traffic during peak hours ($20,500), violation of permit conditions ($30,750) and failure to correct deficiencies ($31,250) for repeat offenders.

Despite the money being made from these fees, the city believes fewer violators will slip through the cracks, due to a more efficient inspection system.

Ryan Ward with the Austin Transportation Department tells KXAN employees prioritize inspections based on a number of factors, including where the project is and the contractor’s inspection history.

“I think some of the biggest changes we’ve focused on is those delays where you see construction vehicles blocking a lane during those peak times,” he said.

Ward also says all the department inspectors spend one day per week working downtown, where most of the work zones are.

The changes come after a city audit last year found oversight issues with how the department handles these right-of-way closures and construction projects.

Still, there are ongoing manpower issues. The department’s right-of-way division has five inspectors to inspect thousands of active permitted projects at any given time.

“It is a heavy lift,” said Ward.

Ward says managing contractors in the right-of-way efficiently is critical for both public safety and mobility.

Echarte hopes ongoing development isn’t at the expense of pedestrian safety.

“I’m pretty good at avoiding harm, but for the average person who doesn’t ride a bike every day, it’s probably dangerous,” Echarte said.

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