Tuesday, April 27, 2010

When is a Contract not a Contract?

When is a contract not a contract? Well, it's apparent that college football and basketball coaching contracts are never really contractural. I mean how many times has a coach signed a contract for 5 years at x kazillion dollars only to have that contract "renegotiated" 2 or 3 years in for even more kazillion dollars.

But that is not as worrisome as when government signs a contract with an individual and then doesn't live up to its terms.

I personally went through this with ACHD. We had to sell our property for the Ustick Rd widening and had a provision negotiated in that was absolutely ignored by the contractor and unenforced by ACHD.

Since I've been on the Commission, I've heard of a number of other situations where contracts are written and then not followed. This is worrisome. If you can't trust government to follow through on contracts, then that is not honorable or moral.

If ACHD is going to promise people certain things in exchange for taking their property, then by Jove, those things should be done. If contractors ignore those provisions, they should be punished. If ACHD doesn't enforce provisions previously agreed to, the taxpayers should take heed because at the end of the day, any liability payments come out of their pockets.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Bridge Over the River Boise

Back in the early 1990's, the expansion of Curtis Rd became a hot topic. At that time, Curtis dead ended at the top of the hill and the ACHD wanted to push it down the hill and connect with Veteran's Parkway. Well, all hell broke loose. The neighborhood didn't want it, ACHD did and the matter came before the Boise City Council, which I was on at the time.

One of the comments we had was that if Curtis was to be constructed, it appeared it was being constructed in a vacuum. We felt that ACHD and the community should do a complete study of the west bench and look at all the connections from the bench to Chinden. And thus was accomplished the Bench to Valley Study. The main tenets were push Curtis Rd, Maple Grove and Five Mile down to connect to Chinden Blvd, perhaps make the Glenwood/Cole couplet one way after determining if it was needed once construction of the other links was made, and create a new river crossing linking Highway 55 to Cloverdale/Maple Grove with a sort of coat hanger look.

The latter became what is known as the Three Cities River Crossing. When first envisioned 15 years ago, the price tag was somewhere around $20 million. Expensive, but not prohibitive. Today, the price tag ranges from $65 million to over $82 million in today's dollars. Now we're talking very expensive and certainly prohibitive as ACHD's entire capital budget is a little over $37 million. In fact, the entire ACHD budget for everything is only a little less than $79 million. While building a new river crossing would be nice, the decision must be made with an eye towards just how this project will ever be funded.

The time has now arrived to fish or cut bait on the idea of the new bridge. We have reached the point where we either abandon the effort without real budget consequences (the money spent so far has been federal money, let's say from Iowa, that need not be repaid) or push forward committing the ACHD to repay any federal money should the project not be completed in the future. Right now, if we determine that we are not going to build the bridge, the feds will say fine. If however, we say, yes let's build a bridge (like they used to say let's do a musical in the old movies) and we spend the $3 million federal earmark we have received for right of way plus whatever other federal money we receive for this project and at some point in the next decade decide we can't finish, then local taxpayers are on the hook to repay all the federal money spent.

One issue that's really never mentioned is that the traffic modeling shows this bridge would relieve traffic on Eagle Rd and on Glenwood St. Both of these roads are state highways not ACHD roads. Is it fair to have the local taxpayers of Ada County subsidize the state highway system? Yes, our population uses these state roads but they are still state roads. If the State of Idaho doesn't spend money on the roads it owns in Ada County, leaving local taxpayers to do that, then ITD will take that money and spend it elsewhere in the State. In effect, Ada County is subsidizing the state system, but what else is new.

We will be holding a public hearing in the next few months on this issue to get input from the community. We will also be asking the cities in Ada County what they think should happen and if they would be willing to contribute. We will be asking if this should be a State ITD responsibility for a new river crossing.

Our window for making a pro-active decision is closing. If we don't make the decision, then it will be made for us.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Law of Unintended Consequences

At ACHD's regular meeting on April 7, 2010, we had an issue that would generally be considered terribly boring, but which shows how governments can focus solely on the here and now and totally ignore the future and unintended consequences.

A developer came to us with the architect for a church building site located on Ten Mile Rd just south of Chinden Blvd. Ten Mile is classified as a principal arterial and will, over time, be five lanes and carry a lot of traffic. Eagle Rd and Fairview Ave are also principal arterials so you get the idea of that. The proposal was a preliminary plat: whatever is approved at that level gets vested with rights. In other words, you can't allow something on a preliminary plat, approve it and then at the final plat stage change your mind.

The church site is directly south of a road leading to a future subdivision. The church will have access to this subdivision road, but the church also wanted an access to Ten Mile. The parking lot was designed to have these two accesses. However, ACHD doesn't care what the internals of a project are, just what the impacts of the project are on the public roadway system. It is up to the city, in this case Meridian, to determine whether the site plan is appropriate or not.

ACHD staff disagreed that there should be an full access directly onto Ten Mile, but compromised with the developer/church by proposing that the direct access to Ten Mile be a right in/right out access and that a median be placed in the middle of Ten Mile to prevent left hand turns across traffic. This would have the effect of prodding drivers who want to go left, to first have to go right for a ways south on Ten Mile and then make a u-turn somewhere.

Anyway, this configuration of church/subdivision is identical to another that I saw many years ago when I was on the Boise City Council. It was on Eagle Rd, south of McMillan and a church came to us wanting an access, their own access, to Eagle Rd. Directly abutting their property to the south was the entrance to the Mahogany Subdivision which, of course, also directly led to Eagle Rd. At that time Eagle was nothing like it is today, but it was always envisioned to carry a lot of traffic and we were always aware that too many cuts onto Eagle would not be a good thing. I vividly remember stating that the subdivision and the church should share an access point. We were told by ACHD that this was impossible, that both uses were allowed their own access. Well, at the end of the day, there are now two access points, within a few hundred feet of each other, on Eagle Rd., one of the most, if not the most, heavily traveled state roads in Idaho.

When I first got on the ACHD commission, I was assigned to participate in the Fairview Ave access study. This study is looking at the hundreds (maybe thousands?) of access points onto Fairview Ave between Orchard St in Boise, to Linder in Meridian. The goal is to limit the number of accesses to one every 1/4 mile or so, increase cross access easements and in the end have a principal arterial that flows and is safe. This is going to take decades and perhaps quite a bit of money to buy those accesses back from property owners.

So back to Ten Mile.

We were being asked to create on Ten Mile what we know doesn't work on Fairview and Eagle Rds. While the recommendation to have a right in/right out access was proposed to be accommodating, and it wouldn't have that much impact today, the unintended consequences, which are readily forseeable, were kind of ignored.

In the end, common sense prevailed. I made the motion to approve the plat with access only off of the subdivision road to the north. If this requires a replatting of the internal parking/circulation, so be it. The motion passed with Sherry Huber and Carol McKee agreeing. John Franden and Rebecca Arnold wanted the limited access option for some reason.

To me the decision was very easy. If we know that mistakes were made in the past we need to make sure those mistakes are avoided in the present and the future. If we have a policy, we need to stick to it. Circulation is bad enough in Ada County that we should not add to the problems.

Want to see the meeting? Oh you know you do. Go here and click on the video for Item #4 on the regular agenda. And enjoy.

UPDATE: We've been asked to reconsider our vote. I will make that motion and if it passes we can discuss the matter again. Seems that there was an error in that the staff said it was a principal arterial and it is actually a minor arterial. Anonymous commented this. Perhaps if they had given their credentials...... However, I still may not vote for the right in/right out, but since there was an error, the developer can remake their case.

Monday, April 5, 2010

At Long Last Construction

The number one project for the City of Meridian has long been widening the intersection of Eagle and Victory Rds. This project was actually bid in October 2006, came in at $4,685,495 for construction, and was rejected. This week, the ACHD Commission will award a construction bid for the same project which now will cost taxpayers $2,612,333.96, substantially lower than 3 1/2 years ago, actually almost one half lower. Additional costs of $231,000 include utility work, traffic materials and some engineering costs.

The Eagle/Victory intersection will be widened to 5 lanes with new curb, gutter and sidewalks. Eagle Rd from Victory north to Copper Point Dr will be widened to 5 lanes as well, the Eagle Rd bridge in this vicinity will be replaced and new sewer and water system upgrades will happen at the same time. Eagle Rd and Easy Jet will also have a signal installed.

This area of Ada County has seen tremendous growth during the last decade. It's unfortunate that the project didn't happen sooner, but sometimes good things do happen to those who wait.