Ballenger Construction

Ballenger Construction heavy equipment is a common sight along the bridges, highways and airport runways of South Texas. While the official founding of the company is generally documented as March 1937, the patriarch of the family, Joe Grover Ballenger, was using mule teams to move dirt back in the 1920s. 

As the Ballenger family history explains, in 1908, Joe Grover and his wife left Jasper, Ala., in a wagon and headed across Mississippi and Louisiana into South Texas. They settled in a small tent city near the waypoint known to railroad employees as “Bessie,” which later became San Benito. Joe Ballenger made his living by selling ice and milk from a horse-drawn wagon before starting a small construction outfit. In those days, “Pop” Ballenger never could have envisioned the evolution of his hard work into what the company is today. 

Still family owned and operated, Ballenger Construction is based in Harlingen, Texas, – about six miles from San Benito, Texas – and has branch offices in San Antonio and Corpus Christi, Texas. It employs 600 people from Austin to Brownsville, Texas, and is involved in public and private road construction work across the Rio Grande Valley and beyond. The company specializes in excavation, drainage, pipe laying, box culverts and barrier walls. Ballenger also has its own materials processing, as well as caliche – a calcium carbonate mineral used in construction worldwide – and asphalt operations.

Hard Work Plus Vision

The company’s president is Joe Charles Ballenger Jr., who is very familiar with the recounting of how his great-grandfather hitched his mules and worked alongside a small 2-yard dump truck and draglines to clear the way and help shape the channels and roadbeds for Point Isabel, Texas, now known as Port Isabel. 

“Working on drainage ditches and waterways and brush clearing were the main business concerns for many years in the 1920s,” Joe Charles Jr. says. “Then the dreaded depression of the ’30s occurred. During those difficult times, “Pop” acquired a ranch just south of Sebastian, Texas, for unpaid work performed for the previous owner. Farming and ranching on this property kept the family fed for many years during the lean times.” 

One of “Pop’s” sons, Joe Davis Ballenger, invested in a used bulldozer and put it to work clearing brush to make way for farming operations throughout Cameron County, Texas. When Joe Davis’ brother Billy returned from World War II, the pair bought several more machines to plow up roots and stack brush. “These were two hardworking men that didn’t mind getting dirty and dusty, as long as the pay was good,” Joe Charles Jr. says.

By the 1950s, the brothers had refocused their energy and efforts toward road construction. Bidding on rural highway jobs led by the Texas Highway Department, they successfully moved the company in a new direction. This was just a few years before America’s interstate highway system, now known as the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, began to crisscross every state in the nation. 

Expanding on History

Ballenger Construction is still growing, but the company does things a little differently these days. It is currently involved in 40 projects, one of which leads to the Port of Brownsville, another Texas port not far from Pop’s Port Isabel work site. 

Ballenger is providing excavation, embankment, limestone base materials and asphalt for a number of new overpasses with concrete bridges along the $46 million expressway connector from U.S. 77/83 to Highway 511. A large portion of the project is built on new right-of-way and will be completed in fall 2010.

Just as the company is sourcing materials for the Highway 511 project, Ballenger’s ability to supply aggregate materials for road work back in the ’60s was another milestone for the company. Understanding the need to control hot mix asphalt delivery, Ballenger set up a corporation with the Motherall and Velten families and bought their own hot mix plant located in Russellton, Texas. 

“Using a Northwest Model 25 Dragline with a clam shell bucket, they transferred gravel from rail cars directly into the plant’s hoppers. After some time, the Motheralls and Veltens were bought out,” Joe Charles Jr. notes. “This was a batch plant; it was tediously slow. Demand for larger production led to the purchase of a continuous process plant that was set up in San Juan, Texas, and referred to as Plant 2.”

In the 1960s, the next generation, which included the present chairman of the board, Joe Charles Ballenger Sr., and Tommy Ballenger, joined the family business. As the decades went by, they confidently looked for larger projects. 

The company expanded further to incorporate several asphalt plants and crushing operations. Its fleet of modern machinery grew to include super-size draglines, multiple earthmovers, large-volume hot-mix plants, paving spreads and slip-forming machines. Rock crushers and a variety of haul trucks were added to the inventory. 

Ballenger and TxDOT

Federal Highway Administration statistics show that the state of Texas has more than 3,200 miles of interstate highways, the most interstate mileage within a single state. Today, partnering with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) on large projects has become very important to the company, according to Chair­man Joe Charles Ballenger Sr. 

“TxDOT employees help us with scheduling, and there are always unknown factors that turn up in projects of this scale. We work side by side with them to problem solve,” Joe Charles Sr. says. “When we started the Highway 511 project, for example, we discovered that the soil had a high salt content. We had to change the method of construction. With TxDOT’s guidance, we were able to provide the best prices possible and keep the job on schedule and headed toward completion in a timely manner.” 

Another TxDOT undertaking is the $23 million connector bridge from Interstate Highway 37 to the Joe Fulton International Trade Corri­dor on the north side of the Inner Harbor of the Port of Corpus Christi. Ballenger is doing the drainage, embankment and paving. When completed toward the end of 2010, the 4,415-foot concrete bridge with steel girders will cross over the existing Interstate 37 roadway. 

I-37 starts in Corpus Christi and goes north to San Antonio. It is one of only a few freeway hurricane evacuation routes for the Texas Gulf Coast area. 

Ballenger also has started work on the $60 million reconstruction of Highway 281 through Falfurrias, Texas, which is located about 80 miles southwest of Corpus Christi. This project, slated for completion in fall 2011, involves excavation, dirt embankments, hot mix asphalt, bridges and large mechanically stabilized earth (MSE) retaining walls faced with precast concrete panels.

About 60 miles northwest of Corpus Christi, Ballenger is looking at a mid-2011 completion date for the George West project. The company will perform right-of-way preparation, excavation, embankment, underground pipe installation, asphalt and concrete bridge structure work, and construction of MSE retaining walls. The $17 million job involves improvements to U.S. 59. A four-lane section, with left turn lanes at the intersection of U.S. 59 and U.S. 281 and at San Antonio Street, will help improve access between U.S. 281 and I-37. The same contract also calls for the construction of a concrete overpass bridge over the existing Union Pacific Railroad crossing.

The U.S. 281 trade corridor and George West construction projects are a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 stimulus funds, as is the bypass at U.S. 281 at Ben Bolt, Texas. Ballenger’s work on the Ben Bolt project consists of overpass construction, MSE walls, drainage, base materials and asphalt paving. 

“These road construction projects have certainly created a lot of jobs,” Joe Charles Sr. says. “In the long term, the improvements will reduce traffic congestion and travel time and increase safety.”

Meeting Challenges

Texas weather, which can be unpredictable, took a toll on job sites and punished construction schedules this past winter and into the spring.  “Like other parts of the country, we really fought the weather,” Joe Charles Sr. says. “Hurricane Dolly went right over Highway 511. It was ferocious. With weeks of cold weather and residual rain, conditions deteriorated to the point where we just couldn’t work.” But the affected projects are now back on track, and Ballenger is launching, engaged in or completing other jobs around the region. “Based on a teamwork approach, the company has diversified into other areas out of the Rio Grande Valley,” Joe Charles Jr. notes. “The willingness to venture into other markets, carefully study plans before bid and be flexible enough to change has made the company successful.” 

Ballenger’s capable area managers are accountable for their project costs and create an atmosphere where all employees can contribute toward the company’s efforts to achieve excellence. According to Joe Charles Jr., the very best people in the construction industry comprise Ballenger Corporation.

Building for the Future

In addition to superhighway construction, Ballenger recently completed an infrastructure road project leading to the remote wind farms located in the ranch country of Kenedy County, Texas. Eighty miles of caliche road base had to be laid in 90 days. 

The ground was so sandy that Ballenger had to bring in special equipment. According to Joe Charles Sr., the time schedule was as brutal as the terrain. Crews worked every day for three months to bring the job in on time.

Aviation is another area of interest for Ballenger Construction. The company’s aviation contracts encompass drainage, site preparation, rehabilitation and expansion work on aprons, taxiways and runways at a number of Texas airports.

Ballenger Construction’s list of aviation clients includes: 

  • San Antonio International
  • Brownsville-South Padre Island International
  • McAllen Miller International
  • Harlingen’s Valley International Airport
  • Mid Valley Airport in Weslaco 
  • The Municipal Airport in Hondo, Texas 

“Forced to adapt to the economic conditions of our time, we’ve extended the scope of our work and expanded geographically,” Joe Charles Sr. says. “We used to focus on five counties. Now we work all across South Texas. I would like to see us get into more management and engineering of large projects. There is a lot of potential for increased revenues in these areas.” Following the spirit of the earlier Ballengers and helping to define a vision for the present generation, he adds, “That’s where we need to go next.”

AGC Membership

Ballenger Construction notes that it is a “proud member of the Associated General Contractors of Texas, which has as its values: skill, responsibility and integrity.” 

Ballenger is not alone in belonging to this longstanding organization. AGC Texas says it has nearly 900 member firms from across the state. Its roots go back to 1924, and it merged with the Texas Heavy, Municipal and Utilities Branch in 1984. This created “one of the largest, strongest and most progressive chapters in the construction industry,” AGC Texas says. The chapter also holds a charter from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association.

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