Applying Field Engineering to the City of Austin Sidewalk Program

RPS empowers faster development of multi-modal, liveable cities by connecting communities with efficient and cost-effective sidewalk design engineering.

Sidewalk program history

The City of Austin (COA) Sidewalk Program was formed in 2006 under the Public Works Department as a response to the need for constructing new and replacing old and deteriorating sidewalk infrastructure throughout the City of Austin. To tackle the thousands of miles of non-accessible or non-existent sidewalks, the COA developed a Master Plan in 2009 (updated version in 2016) to list out goals, criteria, and recommendations for improvements and prioritization. Since it began in 2006, the Sidewalk Program has continually evolved to streamline the Field Engineering permit process to allow for more efficient use of dollars and to be able to improve sidewalk, urban trail, and bikeway infrastructure at a higher rate.

City of Austin Sidewalk Challenge

According to the COA, Public Works is currently responsible for over 2,400 miles of existing sidewalks with over 2,500 miles of missing/non-existent sections. Additionally, within the 2,400 miles, over 80% of the sidewalks are in poor condition. Per the 2016 10-Year Master Plan, the city plans to spend 250 million dollars over the next 10 years to address priority sidewalks within ¼ mile of schools, bus stops, and parks and to focus on improving and maintaining the existing sidewalks.

North Lamar St and Sunshine dr before.jpg

Field engineering methodology

Enabling efficiency and cost effectiveness

To achieve these goals, the Program implements the Field Engineering Methodology. This methodology rapidly cuts down on the design costs and timeline for projects and allows the city staff, consultant engineers, and contractors to actively work together as a team and collaborate to scope, design, estimate, permit, and construct the various sidewalk improvement projects throughout.

RPS Sidewalk Projects

  • Boggy Creek Trail Before

    East side in Austin, Texas

    01 /06
    Boggy Creek Trail Section Before.jpg
  • Boggy Creek Trail After

    East side in Austin, Texas

    02 /06
    Boggy Creek Trail Section After.jpg
  • West Stassney Ln at South 1st Before

    South side in Austin, Texas

    03 /06
    West Stassney Ln - South st before.jpg
  • West Stassney Ln at South 1st After

    South side in Austin, Texas

    04 /06
    West Stassney Ln - South st after.jpg
  • North Lamar St and Sunshine Dr. Before

    North side in Austin, Texas

    05 /06
    North Lamar St and Sunshine dr before.jpg
  • North Lamar St and Sunshine Dr. After

    North side in Austin, Texas

    06 /06
    North Lamar St and Sunshine dr after.jpg

Project planning

A location is assessed by the city staff and deemed as requiring improvements to allow for safe accessibility and connectivity. The project is then assigned to one of the engineering consultants (such as RPS) who is contracted with the city to design, estimate, and permit the project. During the design and permitting phase of the project, the consultant engineer will put together a small signed and sealed plan set with standard approved notes and details, a schematic or layout of the proposed scope of improvements and traffic control plans for the project area (if adjacent to City of Austin roadway) and submit to the COA for review and permitting. The plan set is reviewed by various specialists at the COA, including, but not limited to, an environmental arborist, traffic control reviewer, and right-of-way reviewer. 

Aligning expectations

Once RPS has moved through the permitting process and the project has been approved and permitted by the city, the contractor will schedule a crew to begin the project. An initial layout field meeting is set up where the consultant field engineer and the contractor’s superintendent walk the project location and mark out the proposed improvements on the ground with spray paint – this includes marking out the curb alignment, sidewalk dimensions, driveway considerations and the configuration of curb ramps, among other details.

Construction considerations

After the layout meeting, the contractor’s crew begins construction while the consultant field engineer makes daily site visits to check on construction progress.

Major items of note that the field engineer must pay attention to are:

  • Construction of improvements – are the improvements being built to detail and specification per the project documents?
  • Drainage considerations - will the improvements impact existing drainage or cause any drainage issues?
  • ADA-compliancy -are the improvements in line with Public-Right-of-Way-Accessibility Guidelines (PROWAG) and ensure that the project meets the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements?

The field engineer continues to visit daily and check on these major items throughout the duration of the project. Additional field meetings may be set up with the COA project manager/representative and/or the contractor superintendent to hash out any missing detail or information and/or layout the next section of work, if the project scope is large enough where one field meeting is not enough. Depending on the scope of project, the Sidewalk Program projects could range anywhere between 2 weeks of construction to a full year, but typically stay around the 1-month timeframe.

Closing steps

Once the construction is completed, some closing steps are needed to successfully wrap up the project. First, the field engineer sets up a meeting with the city representative/inspector and the contractor representative to walk the constructed improvements and note any construction items that need to be resolved – during this walkthrough, a punch-list of items is created for the contractor to make final fixes/revisions to the improvements. Secondly, the field engineer sets up a meeting with the contracted Registered-Accessibility Specialist (RAS) to have a walkthrough to confirm the improvements were built per PROWAG and meets the ADA requirements. Finally, the project site is walked with the various parties to measure the quantities of the improvements (curb, sidewalk, driveway, asphalt, ramp, etc.) for contractor billing. Once all punch list and ADA items are addressed and the quantities are agreed upon by the contractor and city representative, the contractor can be paid, and the project is closed out.

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