During a relatively mundane discussion of whether to authorize spending up to $1,000 to complete Phase 1 of the planning and permitting work for Waitsfield’s west side sidewalk, members of the select board were ready to talk about pulling the plug on the project altogether.
“This project could go down the tubes,” board chair Paul Hartshorn said at the board’s July 11 meeting.
“It’s teetering,” board member Sal Spinosa added.
Their comments came after the board voted to complete Phase 1 of the project to extend a proper sidewalk from the Valley Players Theater in Waitsfield Village to Farr Lane. The board voted to allow project consultant Kevin Russell and the engineering firm Stantek to work up to five hours each to complete the first phase, spending no more than a total of $1,000
Earlier in the meeting the discussion revolved around whether to complete the first phase or not. Initially Russell asked for up to 10 hours for himself and Stantek to complete the first phase and board member Kari Dolan made such a motion. Board member Darryl Forrest questioned why more money was being spent and board member Anne Bordonaro amended Dolan’s motion from 10 hours to five hours. That motion passed.
Russell pointed out to the board that because the project is grant funded with the town paying 10 percent and the grant covering 90 percent that the board was debating between spending $200 or $100.
But costs are at the heart of the debate. The projected costs of the sidewalk project have risen from an estimated $369,500 to $572,750 and the town is applying for an additional $178,250 in grant funding to cover the overage. The new funds will include a 20 percent match; the town’s share would be $31,650.
In part, the added expenses are due to project components that Russell and the sidewalk committee feel are critical and that the select board does not. Those components are considered add/alternatives that the town could include or remove from the final project if additional monies are received.
Those add/alternative components include granite curbing, curb extensions at crosswalks, stormwater infiltration basins and street lighting.
The board will know by the end of September whether there will be more grant money.
By taking this time off from work on the project, Russell said, the town is putting 2017 construction of the sidewalk at risk.
“I can’t say that it’s a deal breaker for sure, but I can’t promise you’ll hit the 2017 construction season. I’d like for you to reconsider putting the project on hold. I understand you have significant concerns about the cost,” he said.
“We have considerable concerns about the elements of the project. This isn’t just about the cost, it’s about the components,” Spinosa said.
“Can’t we stop? We can’t just stop?” Forrest asked.
“You gave us the authority to go forward,” Russell said.
“Some of us don’t like the design and townspeople don’t like the design,” Forrest said.
“How much more engineering needs to be done for the bump outs and lights,” Hartshorn asked Russell, who said the lights hadn’t been engineered and the bump outs or curb extensions may require some more measurements, but that they were mostly engineered.
“The curb extensions we consider part of the base project,” Russell said.
“This board didn’t,” Hartshorn said.
“You already asked us to break out that cost. The curb extensions are $25,000, meaning that it is costing the town $2,500 to have three safe crosswalks. We would have been irresponsible to recommend any other plan for the town,” Russell said.
Hartshorn repeated his concern that the curb extensions would make plowing and snow removal difficult.
‘We need to stop project creep. This one is getting bigger and bigger,” Spinosa said.
Russell noted that the project has thus far cost $55,455 of which the town’s share has been $5,455 and noted that current costs are on target.
“It’s not any more than we anticipated spending. It will cost more if we continue to go in fits and starts. I don’t know what more to say. I’m taxed out trying to defend this project. The team would be irresponsible not to present the project it did, based on the committee’s work, past studies by the town and state of Vermont regulations. Curb extensions are part of safe crosswalks,” Russell said.
Board member Anne Bordonaro asked if the town’s grant application should be seeking money for components that the board may or may not favor.
“I was not in favor of a west side sidewalk before I got on the board and now I’ve come to realize that there’s a half-finished project hanging out there. I’m not going to approve a project that comes in at half a million dollars whether it’s our money, state money or federal money. I recommend that sooner versus later we go through the additional elements and decide which ones we have the votes on this board to approve,” Bordonaro said.
“Where did this sidewalk idea come from?” she asked.
“Your Town Plan,” Russell answered.
“This discussion is beyond what was warned on the agenda for tonight. We know we have a safety issue with that sidewalk and we’ve approved a nominal amount of money to complete the first phase,” Dolan said.
Town administrator Valerie Capels offered the board the words she is using in the grant application seeing more funds: “The remaining section of dirt, asphalt and gravel has alignment issues and does not meet ADA standards.”