Saturday, July 8, 2017

City Council, July 10th - Minto Bridge Change Order No. 6

Council meets on Monday, and for our purposes here they've got a very light schedule. So just some items in passing.

Minto Bridge - via Facebook
In the administrative purchases report of the City, there's another change order, change order no. 6, on the Minto Bridge for $211,671.  Perhaps related to this, next week on the Downtown Advisory Board's agenda is an item, "Does the Downtown Advisory Board recommend Agency Board approval for increased funding for the Peter Courtney Pedestrian Bridge?"

Some will want to see in these overruns an argument against the bridge at all. That's not going to be the argument here of course.

Eugene's Greenway Bike Bridge, completed in 1978
It's true a side argument that emerged after the soft opening of the bridge is that a plainer, and somewhat less costly design would have better served the scenic qualities of the slough, river, and the wildlife while accomplishing the same connectivity. But this only became clear in retrospect, and the decision Council made for the "tied arch" design was defensible.

Commercial Street Bridge Replacement, March, 2013
Second Stage Demo, West-side Beams in place
But why the delays and overruns? It appears the Commercial Street Bridge replacement a few years ago was much more straight-forward, and was completed on-time and on-budget.

So what are the factors that made the Minto Bridge more complicated and more difficult? So far the City has pooh-poohed them, or tried to displace blame onto the contractor.

But maybe, just maybe, this was a more complicated project than people wanted to think initially. How much "optimism bias" did we have on the project?

The Preferred Alternative is still in a liquefaction zone
(via N3B, adapted from chapt 3.18 of the  DEIS)
And what are the implications for cost estimates made for the Salem River Crossing, which has to cross a liquefaction zone, and is a much more complicated project than the Minto Bridge?

ODOT's recent history of cost overruns on big projects
via BikePortland and Joe Cortright
Also on the bridge, Councilor Kaser proposes to make a "Request to Oregon Department of Transportation  to extend the comment period on the for input on the Impacts to Wallace Marine Park, Wallace Natural Area, and the Willamette River Water Trail from the Proposed Salem River Crossing Project" in order "to receive comment from the Salem Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and neighborhood associations" as well as additional comment from the public. This was another instance of short notice and a compressed comment period on a relatively complicated thing.

The Mayor has published his list of appointments for the Council Transit Committee, and it has a real presence from the Chamber, who has not been very supportive of transit. So this could go either way: Folks aligned with the Chamber could really dig in and think through ways that they have hindered transit and ways they could instead support transit in Salem; or they could act as a brake and ensure the Committee does nothing more than produce an empty "study," and say "well, we tried." The Committee also appears to lack much presence from riders and looks pretty anglo and male. If a goal was to represent a diverse community, the Committee's composition may not meet that goal.

Damien Gilley talking about "Mirror Maze," July 5th
via Twitter
Finally, in the Urban Renewal Agency's report on administrative purchases, there are two $25,000 line items for the murals going in this summer.

It is sometimes mean and low to complain too much about public art. But how it is possible that "Mirror Maze" costs the same as the "Waldo Stewards" project on the stairwell across the street, which seems like it is way more complicated? (More on those here.) Anyway, these are budgets and valuations to consider when we assess things like bike share. Art shouldn't be commodified (though of course it is at auction and such), and it is difficult to price instances of art as if they had some direct utility. They express non-monetary values.  At the same time, it is reasonable to ask "if we value X with this amount of public subsidy, how should we value Y with public subsidy." Or "if we fund thing X, what valuable thing Y do we have to give up?" Comparison will help make sure there is a reasonable proportionality and that the trade-offs are right in levels of subsidy and support.

Just in general we don't do enough comparison.

One of the central claims in the contest over the Salem River Crossing is that the process and case for UGB expansion really didn't compare in a deep and sophisticated way the costs and benefits of Alternative 2A and of making a serious attempt to implement a robust suite of traffic demand management actions. The argument was framed instead as "how little can we do and still justify the big highway and bridge"? It was motivated reasoning, not dispassionate analysis.

And from the Strategic Planning process, two relevant and related observations:
  • Finding 3. Elected officials and staff do not have coordinated systems to make, implement, and evaluate policy decisions
  • Finding 4. The City needs more staff capacity to implement a coordinated package of forecasting, planning, and evaluation systems

2 comments:

Jim Scheppke said...

"The Committee also appears to lack much presence from riders and looks pretty anglo and male. If a goal was to represent a diverse community, the Committee's composition may not meet that goal."

A bit of an understatement here, don't ya think? No women, no people of color, no persons of low income, no persons with disabilities. What were they thinking?

Michael Slater said...

The Salem Strategic Plan Study Group, a group of a dozen residents who have engaged the strategic planning initiative, raised findings #3 and #4 with the Mayor, Councilors, and City Manager in a letter on April 19th and then in public comments. We wrote:

"We found the Situation Assessment prepared by ECONorthwest to be an extremely helpful and compelling document. We believe each of the report’s 15 findings have merit. We would like to highlight two findings:

"Finding 4: The City needs more staff capacity to implement a coordinated package of forecasting, planning, and evaluation systems.

"Of all the findings, Finding 4 most captured our attention. The City simply cannot provide quality, sustainable services, address known problems such as our structural deficit and deferred maintenance schedule, and manage for growth without investing in more central staff with the appropriate expertise.

"We recommend that the Council direct the City Manager to identify the minimum positions needed to provide “a coordinated package of forecasting, planning, and evaluation system” at an acceptable level of service, revise the recommended budget to include the cost of these positions, and, once funded, set about promptly filling them."

The City Manager requested several new items and positions for the upcoming budget, but none related to this critical shortcoming.