City streets only a few months old, refurbished as part of Project 180, could be ripped up again when the city lays down track as part of the MAPS 3 streetcar project " potentially wasting millions in taxpayer dollars if the two projects do not work closely together, transit advocates claim.
Conversely, taxpayer money may actually be saved if both projects coordinate their resources and construction schedules and if a final route for the streetcar is approved relatively soon, people involved with both projects say.
Work on Project 180, a redesign of downtown streets, sidewalks, parks and plazas that began in July 2009, is expected to be completed in 2014. The $140 million project's goal is to improve appearance and make the central core more pedestrian-friendly.
The project is funded through general obligation bonds passed in 2007 and the Tax Increment Financing District Number 8, also known as the Devon TIF, since the district encompasses the Devon Tower area. As part of the Project 180 agreement with Devon Energy, the city has certain requirements and deadlines to meet in the construction and renovation process.
While the first phase of the project has already began, phase two is expected to start in early summer 2011 and phase three is to start in 2012.
The MAPS 3 streetcar project was part of the MAPS 3 initiative, which is funded by a 1 percent sales tax increase, passed by voters in December 2009. The initiative allocates $130 million toward purchasing a streetcar and designing and building between 4 and 6 miles of streetcar rail line in the downtown area.
Meanwhile, the Alternatives Analysis Steering Committee is working on a study of downtown transportation that is broader in scope than the MAPS 3 streetcar plan, but hopes to eventually build upon the project.
The steering committee, which is separate from the MAPS 3 transit subcommittee, but has a few of the same members, is working on some possible routes for the streetcar as well as a possible location for a hub.
While both projects aim to make downtown more traversable, things could get dicey integrating the projects.
DOUBLE TIME, DOUBLE DIME?
The streetcar will likely require utilities underneath the street be moved, not to mention the installation of rails in the street, meaning the street surfaces would have to be torn up.
Since no route has been finalized for the streetcar, it's possible, if not likely, that the future route will run across some of the streets that are targeted by Project 180.
The potential conflict between the two plans was one of the main concerns of the MAPS 3 Citizens Advisory Board Modern Streetcar Subcommittee at its first meeting on Nov. 17.
"The challenge that we have as a committee is Project 180," subcommittee member Jeff Bezdek said at the meeting. "If we cannot come to a (route) consensus fairly quickly "¦ if we can't integrate those two projects, we will cost the taxpayers millions and millions of dollars " if we haven't already " because of the timing situation.
"The clock is ticking. Who wants to see concrete torn up twice?"
Bezdek, who chaired the Modern Transit Project's efforts to advocate for a MAPS 3 streetcar, said much of the cost associated with building a system comes from moving utilities. Out of an estimated cost of around $20 million per mile, up to $10 million may be used to move utilities.
Eric Wenger, MAPS program manager, told the subcommittee that the next round of work for Project 180 would likely begin in early summer, meaning that if the subcommittee wanted to integrate the streetcar work with the other project's work, a route would have to be decided on fairly soon, but several unanswered questions remain.
"I know timing is of the essence, but there are still so many unanswered questions, not just with 180's schedule, but with the transit project itself," Wenger said. "If we can avoid duplication " that is a goal."
Mark Gibbs, a member of the streetcar subcommittee, said at the meeting that he would like to see such integration occur as soon as possible.
"I'll put it crudely: Whenever I get one of those Project 180 outreach e-mails, that they're closing down Walker, there's another few million down the drain potentially," Gibbs said.
At the Nov. 18 MAPS 3 Citizens Advisory Board meeting, Gibbs addressed the members, telling them that not only is tearing up new streets a concern and potential waste of money, but also the possibility of having to change or reinstall utility poles to support an overhead line for the streetcar, or relocating utility lines that were previously relocated as part of Project 180 work.
Failure to integrate the two projects could waste as much as $40 million in taxpayer money, Gibbs told the committee.
"I'm not here asking you to start spending MAPS money on the streetcar project," Gibbs said. "I'm actually saying here's an excellent opportunity to save MAPS 3 money. In other words, make the MAPS 3 taxpayer dollar go as far as possible."
Wenger said many of the pieces needed to integrate the transit system and Project 180 work have yet to come together, but they are in the process of doing so.
"We're going to do as much work and be as diligent as possible to get that alignment established so that we can realize certain savings, or at least as little rework as possible," Wenger said.
Project 180 program manager Laura Story, a former assistant city engineer, said overlap between her project and the MAPS 3 transit project is unavoidable, and to begin moving utilities for the streetcar with Project 180 funds would have likely caused large cost overruns.
"I don't know that there is a conflict that could have been avoided with Project 180," Story said. "We have found there are so many utilities in the ground that for us to clear everything for the streetcar railing would have been very, very irresponsible to ratepayers or taxpayers. We could not justify it."
Planners have already done some work to accommodate the streetcar, such as spacing trees and light poles so they won't have to be torn up later, Story said, and engineers from both groups should be able to work out a manageable plan.
"I think there's an effort to avoid double cost," Story said. "I think we're finding efficiencies in constructing Project 180 because we are moving forward and the fact that we're doing this so close together (with the transit project), there's an efficiency to be found that wouldn't be there if we had spread this out."
City Planning Director Russell Claus said it is unclear how much it would cost to redo Project 180 work to make way for the rail line, but doubted it would be around $40 million " a number he said would make up a majority of the project's streetscape funds. Work by the Alternatives Analysis Steering Committee has helped look at ways to avoid such do-overs and lower potential costs, he said.
"When you get a lot going on, sometimes you get some overlap on time lines," Claus said. "We should be happy so much is going on. We are aware there may be some work that will need to be redone, but everybody is trying to mitigate disruption and costs to the maximum degree possible." "Clifton Adcock