The tale continues…after the City Council authorized rebidding the TIGER trail project in September, 4 bids were received. All bids exceeded projected costs and the low bid is $828,465 over. Although it took two tries to get the bids and much procedural grandstanding, let’s catch our collective breath.
TIGER supporters would probably agree that Trunk Highway 3 is a 4 lane “traffic sewer” through the middle of Northfield affecting land use, deterring bicycle and pedestrian crossing, and dividing the east and west sides of town. Since this is also the picture drawn by the Council-adopted Comprehensive Plan (and other plans and policies I get tired of listing for those Council members who ignorantly or willfully avoid them), their understanding is well-grounded in the city’s public policy.
The City has been implementing the policies by adopting more detailed policies (like the Complete Streets policy and Safe Routes to School Plan) and following through on smaller improvements such as filling gaps in the sidewalk network (despite the failure on Maple Street) in annual street projects. But, TH3 remains a big obstacle. The 2009 Multimodal Integration Study (which involved collaboration among City staff, elected officials, various City boards and business owners) identified several grade-separated “concepts” which could provide better access across TH3/TH19 and subsequently form the basis of a grant application. The TIGER grant application selected one of these and the Council approved the application…and so on.
Here are my questions about the project itself (in no particular order):
- Costs of retrofitting: This project builds capacity for non-motorized transportation which has not only been excluded from transportation planning until quite recently but made substantially more difficult by projects like the Highway 3 expansion. What amount is reasonable to remedy a problem created by a mono-modal transportation project (and how can gradual improvement be added back into the transportation planning and budgeting in the future)? When answering this question, try to identify the ways in which government subsidizes automobile travel.
- Cost and value of completion vs. cancellation: The state and federal government are spending money on this project; in addition to the financial contribution, what value is there in completing this project on time, honoring our commitment, and developing good working relationships with the agencies? When answering this question, map how transportation dollars are allocated to local government from other levels of government.
- How does this project link to other bicycle/pedestrian facilities? Does building this link help increase the usefulness of those facilities? What other future improvements will further integrate this link into the network?
- Compared to other projects of similar scope/complexity, are the bids reasonable? This is another way of asking whether the grant application underestimated the cost and/or complexity of the project (and that we can believe the bid numbers are the “right” ones).
- Downstream effects: This project will provide jobs, help increase value in the neighborhoods most directly served, perhaps stimulate development at the stalled Crossings development as well as providing Northwest Northfield residents with additional access to jobs and services. What are these worth?
Yes, the project costs a lot of money and more money than anticipated. But determining whether it is “too much” should depend on a thoughtful discussion of how the trail serves the long-term transportation goals, what contribution this project makes to future projects, and how we want to build accessibility and equity into the system.
I would like to hear the Council discuss and reach a shared understanding (if not agreement) about the policy perspective adopted by the City which seeks to address transportation beyond cars and maintain and improve the transportation system in ways which serve the entire community. It’s a big subject which could encompass everything from walking to air quality to storm water to freight to land use to economic development…but the conversation should start and providing for non-automobile connections is one place to do it.
If a majority of the Council believes the current adopted policy positions are misguided, then change the guiding policy with community participation. Don’t get to the point of decision on projects and try to dismantle the policy one vote at a time.