Engineering Department ensures safe, reliable infrastructure
As Director of Engineering the past 14 years, Gordon Scruggs’ fingerprints are all over the city. The plans for every roadway and development project in The Colony run through his department for review.
While the word “engineering” may spring to mind images of schematics and complex mathematics, the bottom line is about ensuring safety and quality-control standards are met throughout the community.
“Our job is to basically oversee construction of all the city’s infrastructure – water, wastewater, storm drainage, and roadways,” Scruggs said. “We make sure all construction, including private development, is designed right, tested properly, constructed with the right materials, and inspected before being put in operation.”
Developers and contractors also must hire the right people to work on their site, such as electricians and plumbers qualified by the state. Again, ensuring public safety is the goal.
“Simply put, when you cross over a bridge driving down the road, you expect that structure to be built according to reasonable standards and that it’s not going to collapse as you drive over it,” Scruggs said.
Everyone on Scruggs’ staff has engineering degrees, and all but one are licensed professional engineers in Texas. Rather than hire full-time specialists, the department utilizes consultants as needed to help with specific areas of engineering expertise, especially when things get busy.
And busy is how it’s been for the past several years, what with all the economic and residential development taking place in the city. Scruggs credits the City Council for being proactive in the years before Grandscape became a household name in order to pave the way for all that’s here now and what’s still to come.
“The Council pushed to go forward with putting in all the infrastructure in advance, before we had all the development, so the development could come right in and blossom,” he said.
The conditions of roadways and their timelines for reconstruction are, of course, priorities also planned in advance. It may not seem like it now, but once the Main Street Widening Project is completed, the city’s transportation infrastructure will be in excellent shape, Scruggs said.
“We’ve already widened Paige Road and Plano Parkway, and reconstructed North Colony and South Colony boulevards,” he said. “Memorial Drive has been extended and another phase of widening is underway. Soon that road will be four lanes from city limit to city limit. People may not remember but it used to terminate at Main Street to the west and dead-end at the eastern city limits before the underpass was built.”
Main Street reconstruction has been in the works for almost 20 years. The much-needed project was held up for a lack of funding until The Colony City Council and other impacted municipalities agreed to a memorandum of understanding allowing State Highway 121 to be reconstructed as a toll road. The Texas Department of Transportation, which manages state roadways like FM 423, then accepted a $3.2 billion bid from the North Texas Tollway Authority for the project. That money, along with some regional toll revenues in the years since, has paid for a significant portion of Main Street, as well as other regional roadway projects like the widening of I-35E between Carrollton and Denton.
“Without that money, it was estimated Main Street reconstruction wouldn’t even have been started until 2025,” Scruggs said. “And that would’ve just been the design phase. It would be nowhere close to where it is now. Instead, all of the paving could be completed by next summer, leaving just the sidewalks, sound walls, landscaping, and medians to be constructed.”
Of course, Main Street is not the only roadway project in The Colony. The city’s Engineering Department is more heavily involved in overseeing residential street reconstruction projects. In conjunction with feedback from residents, an independent engineering firm is contracted to continually assess roadways and help identify streets most in need of repairs – whether it be potholes, drainage problems, or simply a road reaching the end of its lifespan.
Once Main Street is finished, repairing Blair Oaks will likely be moved near the top of the list, Scruggs said. Unlike North Colony and Paige, which were reconstructed with 8-inch thick concrete designed to handle heavy traffic, Blair Oaks is only 6-inch concrete, the same as residential streets, and was built before the city updated its standards to require greater thickness on collector roads.
“Portions of the road have been reconstructed the past 15 years so it’s actually in pretty good shape overall,” Scruggs said. “But there are some bad spots that have gotten worse because of the increased traffic the past few years. It’ll be a fair amount of money. We’re working on an estimate for that project now in the hopes we can get it into the Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) budget for 2017-18 and be ready to go forward once we get the funding.”
Before coming to The Colony, Scruggs was the Flood Plain Administrator for the City of Grand Prairie. He draws heavily upon that experience in managing The Colony’s storm drainage and erosion control systems, which also fall under the purview of Engineering.
The good news is that the city’s flood plains were largely made into park space by Fox & Jacobs, the original developers of the city.
“We do have some undersized storm drains in the old areas but most don’t pose a significant hazard. We don’t have any house-flooding issues for the most part,” Scruggs said. “A whole lot of our parks are where the larger creeks are, like Bill Allen Park. It fills up with water during heavy rains but it doesn’t get into people’s homes.”
Coupled with their own observations, the Engineering Department relies on residents to help identify and monitor drainage hot spots, like the area around Fire Station No. 2 on North Colony and on Taylor Street near B.B. Owen Elementary School. Scruggs encourages residents to contact his department to share their concerns.
“We can’t be everywhere at once, especially when it’s raining hard, so we like to know what residents are seeing out there,” Scruggs said. “But we’re aware of the worst problems for the most part and will get to them as soon as we can.”
If minor repairs are required, Public Works can take care of the problem pretty quickly. “But if the cost is high and the work has to go through CIP and receive Council approval, then it will take longer and we explain that to the residents,” Scruggs said.
However, in extreme cases, funding can and will be approved early before a bad situation becomes worse. Such was the case in the Ridgepointe area a few years back when erosion along Office Creek was creeping into residents’ backyards. Erosion projects are prioritized based on the threat to homes, roads, and parks, in that order. Nearly all erosion control work falls under the CIP budget.
“Erosion is challenging because creeks are unpredictable. They can shift, meander, and erode pretty quickly,” Scruggs said. “And it’s not necessarily the big floods that do the most damage. We’re seeing an increase in the frequency of our storms because of climate change. Development of open spaces has also increased the flows by increasing the amount of pavement in the city. We’ve done some mitigating measures on Office Creek, for example, and we have an overall Master Plan in place designed to mitigate a lot of the potential problems.”
An example of well-planned drainage is at Grandscape, where the north side of the development drains underneath SH 121 into detention ponds which helps prevent water from running off too fast or all at once, mitigating problems downstream from the development.
Whether it’s roads, rain, or erosion, Scruggs said he rests easy knowing the city’s residents are in the hands of capable emergency-responders should a crisis arise and a City Council that has planned ahead in a way that has made his job that much easier.
“Once Main Street is reconstructed, our city is going to have a really good transportation system. I don’t worry a lot,” he said. “The City Council’s efforts to facilitate all of the economic development has also been a big bonus because in years past it was hard for residential tax dollars to provide the funding needed to maintain our roads, provide the infrastructure residents need, and to keep it safe so people are able to concentrate on other things in their lives.”
Scruggs recently announced his retirement, effective early next year. “It has been a privilege to serve and be a part of this community the past 14 years,” he said. “I’m very proud of the role I’ve been able to play in helping grow and maintain the city, and I look forward to many more great things happening in The Colony.”