Columbia tender trepidation: Checkout stand democracy or unelected autocracy?
What’s going on (or not going on) at City Hall about the tenders for the Columbia Avenue infrastructure project? Tenders were opened on April 3 and there hasn’t been a peep about what the bids were.
If the bids had come in below estimates, staff and council members would have been bragging about the money they saved the taxpayers of Rossland. If the bids had come in close to the estimates, the story would be that the project’s on budget and everything planned can be done at the expected cost. But there’s been nothing from City Hall.
I suspect the bids, not surprisingly, came in well above estimates and staff and the consultants at ISL are now scrambling to see what can be cut out of the project. That possibility reminds me of the on-going saga of the Ophir Reservoir project which is still winding its way through the courts because of the items that were arbitrarily cut out of that project by the City when the costs came in way over budget.
So what could be removed from the Columbia Avenue contract without attracting a claim from the contractor such as happened with Ophir Reservoir? Actually, not much. All the optional work on Washington Street could be eliminated from the project, but that work was never included in the original estimate provided to council by CAO Victor Kumar in late December.
The majority of other costs that are identified as “optional” in the tender documents are for all the knick-knacks that were planned to be scattered over the widened sidewalks to impede snow removal in the winter. Things like bike racks, picnic tables, benches, and garbage cans. Not really high-cost items in the grand scheme of things. Not much potential saving there.
So what’s left that could be cut? The $300,000 irrigation system that’s only going to save the City about $5,000 in student labour costs each year would be a good start. So would the roof drain connections to each individual building along Columbia which will never be used. Unfortunately, those are not “optional” items according to the tender documents and cutting them could result in penalties for the City.
What about the parallel parking that’s getting so much attention? That’s not an option either. Potential contractors were not provided an opportunity to bid on anything except parallel parking between Queen and Washington. Any changes at this stage would involve a costly redesign of the project and a significant delay in the start of the project.
The great debate about the apparent 10 parking spot difference between parallel and angle parking totally misses the real point. At the moment, there are about 112 parking spaces on Columbia between Spokane and St. Paul. (Go and count them to convince yourself.) According to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) drawings for “signing and pavement marking” that were issued March 21, 2012 as amendment #3 to the tender documents, there will only be 72 parking spaces after construction. That’s a net loss of 40 parking spaces.
The loss of 40 parking spaces will not be made up by “new” parking spaces in parking lots on Washington or on Queen behind the Credit Union. Those spots already exist. They may be tidied up a bit and paved but there will be no more parking spaces than the existing ones that are already used heavily.
A really interesting feature of the MOTI drawings is that there are no handicap spots included in the parallel parking spaces on the north side of Columbia. There are eight handicap spots shown on the rest of the street but none near the Post Office or the drug store.
So what are folks with mobility issues to do? If they do find a parallel parking spot by the Post Office they can get out of their car by stepping into the drainage swale between their vehicle and the chip truck that is driving by about two feet away. In the winter, their passengers will have to struggle opening the car door into the piles of snow pushed off the extra wide sidewalk. In the summer, at either end of the block, passengers will have to step out of the car into gardens of perennials. Sure sounds like a wonderful design to me. Even able-bodied folks will have problems, but they can park somewhere else and walk.
Staff is deciding what to do with the project. It’s only fitting that they decide what’s going to happen on Columbia Avenue because they’ve made all the decisions up to this point in time anyways. Council has not made one decision about this project other than to rubber-stamp whatever has been put in front of them by staff or have delayed making any decisions until it’s too late and the decisions are made for them.
Council needs to listen to the majority of people in the community. Checkout stand democracy, however imperfect it might be, is still much more preferable to the unelected autocracy that council has allowed the City to sink into.