Monday, August 29, 2005

Council frets over road plans

City Council jitters over long-delayed road repair costs collided Monday (Aug. 29, 2005) with residents’ hopes to have their streets fixed.

About 40 people crowded City Hall Library to hear a report from Engineer Carl Turner and representatives of consultants Schoor DePalma on a schedule of road repairs. After what Mayor Albert T. McWilliams called 20 years of neglect, the city was poised to allot $5 million annually over 15 years to fix streets.

But Councilman Rashid Burney said earlier this month that his analysis showed the initial funding would come up short.

After Monday’s two-hour discussion of road repair issues, Burney said he was satisfied that costs were not out of line, but he volunteered to head a committee to monitor road projects to make sure they stayed on track.

The discussion did nothing to satisfy Pine Street resident Agness McLean, who read a fiery prepared speech when citizens were allowed to respond to the report.

Speaking of her street that lacks paving after five years of complaints, she said, “Pine Street is a pariah that no one wants to touch.”

Growing more emotional, she said, “Why not just fix the streets for once and for all?”

Councilman Ray Blanco responded, saying it would cost $5 million just to fix Pine Street and that the city had sought federal funding to help out, but got no response.

The City Council is expected to vote next week on bond ordinances that would cover $1 million in repairs for three streets and $7 million for 21 or more other streets. The 2004 repairs, to Laramie Road, Crescent Avenue and East Fourth Street, are complete except for “punch list” items, Turner said. Most of the 2005 overlay projects, which do not involve complete road reconstruction, are also well underway, he said.

Councilman Don Davis questioned the process and called for a halt to new projects for 2006.

But Turner and the consultants explained that the city needs to keep to a schedule that permits engineering studies and then bids on a timetable to have construction work done in the prime season of early spring.

Corporation Counsel Jacqueline Drakeford tried to reassure the council that no extra charges could be incurred without City Council approval of change orders. Davis said he wanted to get through the 2005 schedule and then wait a year before undertaking the 2006 plan. Councilman Cory Storch said he felt the council had to live with some uncertainty and not let the process slow down.

“I really urge the council to get comfortable with this,” he said.

Road repair should not be as problematic in the future.

Another bond ordinance includes funds to purchase equipment that would allow Public Works to repair road surfaces on a regular basis, warding off the current conditions. Deferred maintenance has resulted in 70 miles of the city's 94 miles of streets being rated in poor or very poor condition, Public Works Director Priscilla Castles said, but the new program should prevent streets in fair conditions from becoming worse.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: city council, road construction, budget