June 2014 Common Council – Continue the contract with AECOM for Division/Church design project

My name is Bob Fisch. I will speak about the recommendation made by the Board of Public Works last week in favor of continuing the Division/Church corridor design project.

Common Council recently voted to prioritize the Hoover overpass project over the Division/Church corridor project. In light of that vote, the city must decide whether or not to instruct AECOM to complete the contracted environmental assessment and 30% design on the Division/Church corridor.

The city can choose to terminate this contract and transfer unexpended funds to the Hoover overpass project. However, doing so will waste the $492,000 spent so far on the Division/Church project. By terminating the contract, the work done to date by AECOM would need to be redone to qualify for federal funding before the Division/Church corridor can be reconstructed. City leaders have stated at recent meetings that in light of the reprioritization of the Hoover overpass project, the reconstruction of Division/Church would take place in approximately 10 years.

The city of Stevens Point has engaged the public in exploring possible reconfigurations of the Division/Church corridor within the city limits since January of 2013. The purpose and need of this reconstruction have centered on the corridor’s abysmal safety statistics, its poor pavement condition, its substandard lane widths, its inadequate bicycling and walking accommodations, and its lack of aesthetic qualities.

This has been a challenging project because of the many difficult constraints project engineers must address. From the outset, it was very clear that no individual would be entirely satisfied with the final design. For this reason, it is not surprising that this project has been controversial. Within the structure of the stated purpose and need, the objective of project staff has been to find an appropriate balance among the innumerable stakeholders.

In light of the $492,000 already spent, voting to allow AECOM to complete the environmental assessment and 30% design should be an obvious choice. Unfortunately, several alderpersons have shown a severe lack of objectivity. Instead of accepting the controversial nature of this project and the reality of its constraints, these individuals seem to be in denial of the inevitable outcome of a design process that strikes a suitable balance while satisfying the project’s stated purpose and need.

This lack of objectivity is evidenced in their resistance to acknowledging the countless successes among similar projects throughout both Wisconsin and the US. Yet these individuals cling stubbornly to their viewpoint even though they cannot cite a single failure among these thousands of road diets.

Based on trends at the federal and state levels regarding legal restrictions for reconstructing such major arteries that are part of our National Highway System, the eventual design for the reconstruction of the Division/Church corridor will almost certainly contain the major elements proposed in the design alternatives already created by AECOM. The future roadway is likely to be similar to the current design alternatives even if we waste the $492,000 already spent and, a decade from now, restart – at full cost – the environmental assessment and 30% design.

Those alderpersons failing to take an objective view of this issue seem to have some unreasonable expectation that a future design process based on the same corridor constraints will magically result in a substantively different design. And they seem willing to pay $492,000 to take a chance on this unreasonable expectation.

I have heard some alderpersons attempt to deflect attention from this basic issue by creating bogus arguments. One argument I heard questions the wisdom of making a decision now that will affect residents a decade from now. Another argument simply ignored the $492,000 already spent and tried to reframe the issue as a decision on where the unexpended funds would best be spent.

But these are simply manufactured arguments for political cover. The fundamental question is the following: Is is worth paying $492,000 to gamble on the unreasonable expectation that the future design of this highly constrained corridor will turn out substantively different from the designs AECOM has already proposed?

To any objective observer, this is a fool’s gamble.

It will be enlightening to discover how each of you votes as the Common Council takes up this matter momentarily. Although this vote is about the future of the Division/Church project, how each alderperson votes will reveal their ability to envision a vibrant future for Stevens Point and their talent to lead our city in that direction.

Visionary leaders understand the need to create balance among all transportation modes so that Stevens Point can thrive in the coming decades. The decision on continuing or terminating the current Division/Church project will be overshadowed by the revelation of how each of our alderpersons measures up to standards of visionary leadership necessary for our prosperous future.

Thank you for listening.