Board of Public Works will decide Monday how to proceed with Division/Church project

As I mentioned in a recent post, the city is considering reprioritizing the Division/Church corridor project and wants to first focus on building a Hoover Ave overpass or underpass across the railroad tracks just north of Industrial Park Dr. I gave detail about the Hoover project in that post.

On Monday May 12, the Stevens Point Board of Public Works will take up the issue of reprioritization. There are several other related issues they will discuss. The agenda packet for this meeting outlines these issues.

A key feature of the Division/Church corridor project is creating accommodations for those who ride bicycles. This is an important reason to remain aware of what is going on with this project. Specific to the agenda for the May 12 meeting, one item will focus on the state and federal requirements to provide bike lanes when the corridor is reconstructed. This agenda item is described below in the section entitled “Assessment of exceptions to state and federal reconstruction requirements (such as bike lanes)”.

Reprioritization and funding issues
One item for the city to approve is the project reprioritization itself. In presenting the Hoover project, the city has stated its preference to take money currently designated for Division/Church reconstruction and to redirect it to building the Hoover project. This money comes from two sources.

One source is the funds the city received from the state as part of the jurisdictional transfer of the Division/Church corridor to the city in 2009. At the Hoover project meeting on May 6, Mayor Andrew Halverson said there was approximately $5.5 million from that source which could be redirected to the Hoover project. My understanding is that the city has full control of these funds and is free spend them on the Hoover project.

The other source is the funds received in an STP Urban Grant specifically for the Division/Church project. At the January 13 Board of Public Works meeting, Director of Public Works Scott Schatschneider announced that the city was awarded $2.7 million from this grant. This grant is an 80-20 program, meaning that it provides 80% of costs and requires a 20% match from the city. In this case, the 20% match requires the city to spend approximately $700,000 to receive this $2.7 million.

Because these STP funds were designated for the Division/Church corridor, the city must get approval from the state to transfer these funds to the Hoover project. The agenda packet includes recent communication with state officials suggesting that such approval is unlikely to run into any obstacles and would probably be agreed to by the state once a formal request is made.

These two sources of funds would cover approximately 2/3 of the cost of the least expensive of the Hoover project options. The overpass option with sloped sides is estimated to cost $12.3 million, according to the presentation at the May 6 Hoover project public meeting.

This reprioritization and reallocating of funding to the Hoover project will be discussed at the May 12 Board of Public Works meeting.

Next steps for Division/Church
Assuming the Board of Public Works agrees to shift focus to the Hoover project, decisions still remain for the Division/Church corridor project.

The current contract with AECOM (the contractor who has done the design work on the corridor to date) is for a full environmental assessment (EA) and a 30% design. This effort came to a halt soon after a contentious public meeting in November 2013. The city needs to decide whether or not to direct AECOM to restart this design work and complete the contract.

City funds have paid AECOM for the design work already performed, so this decision is about spending the remaining amount in the contract with AECOM in return for completing the EA and 30% design. Eligibility for future state and federal dollars for the reconstruction of Division/Church are connected to this choice.

Although the agenda does not specifically mention it, it seems that completion of the contract would require the city to decide how to react to objections inappropriately expressed at the November 2013 public meeting. A December attempt by the Board of Public Works to create a constructive process for moving the project forward was voted down later that month by the Stevens Point Common Council.

Discussion of how to move forward on the contract with AECOM will take place at the May 12 Board of Public Works meeting.

Putting off reconstruction of the Division/Church corridor brings up yet another issue for the city. One of the key motivations for the Division/Church corridor study is the poor condition of the pavement along the corridor. Even if the Hoover project is constructed first, the Division/Church corridor will likely need some sort of stopgap treatment until the full reconstruction can be undertaken.

At the May 6 meeting about the Hoover project, Mayor Halverson outlined one option where a couple of inches of the current surface can be scraped away and a new smooth surface can be laid down. This sort of treatment is not as durable as a full reconstruction, but the mayor said it could provide an acceptable road surface for about 10 years. The mayor spoke only in generalities about this option at that meeting.

At the May 12 meeting, the Board of Public Works will consider whether the city should perform this sort of stopgap treatment of the Division/Church corridor roadway surface. Obviously, the cost of such a treatment is an important part of this consideration.

Assessment of exceptions to state and federal reconstruction requirements (such as bike lanes)
In March, Director of Public Works Schatschneider met with Wisconsin Dept of Transportation officials to identify if the Division/Church corridor has any features that would permit the city to create the same traffic configuration as currently exists when the corridor reconstruction takes place. Because the Division/Church corridor is on the National Highway System, any configuration after reconstruction must meet certain standards, such as suitable lane widths for freight and accommodations for bicycling and walking.

According to the agenda packet, the result of the conversations with WisDOT concluded that save for possibly one constrained block between Main and Clark that sits in a historic district, the Division/Church corridor does not qualify for any exceptions to state or federal requirements.

A representative from WisDOT will be present at the May 12 meeting to discuss how they came to this conclusion. Bruce Gerland of AECOM will also be present to discuss options for moving forward with the design in light of the comments from the WisDOT representative.

Expectations for May 12 meeting
The May 12 Board of Public Works meeting is scheduled to take place at 7:10 PM at the Lincoln Center (1519 Water St). This meeting is open to the public. However, it is possible that it may start earlier. This is the fourth committee meeting of the evening, the first of which starts at 6 PM. Each meeting will start immediately after the preceding one, so the 7:10 PM time is an estimate. If you want to be certain not to miss the start of the Board of Public Works meeting, I suggest arriving early. Let me add that it is also possible that the Board of Public Works meeting may start late if the earlier meetings last longer than expected.

I see no estimate of how long the Board of Public Works meeting is expected to last. Considering the nature of the topics to be discussed, my personal feeling is that one should not expect this to be a short meeting.

Based on past Board of Public Works meetings on the Division/Church corridor, I do not expect the general public to be allowed to make comments at the meeting. This meeting will likely be an opportunity to learn about the project and to listen to board members and alderpersons express their views about the decisions to be made.

Finally, any decisions made by the board are only recommendations to Stevens Point Common Council. The council will meet on May 19 and is expected to make a final vote on any issues that are taken up by the Board of Public Works.

The city faces some difficult decisions with regard to the Division/Church corridor. The May 12 Board of Public Works meeting promises to be interesting, and Poky Pedalers who attend will probably learn a great deal. For those who do not attend, you can find out what happens by staying current with the PPSP blog where I will post a summary of the key discussions and decisions from this meeting.

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