OPINION by JULIE TACKER
The Arroyo Grande City Council will consider its next steps on the construction of the Brisco Road interchange on Tuesday, after determining the cost has jumped 25% in the past two years. The project has not yet gone out to bid, but city staff is now saying the anticipated costs have risen $5.9 million.
The project’s plans include a roundabout and intersection improvements at Grace Lane and Rodeo Drive, realignment of the southbound ramps at Grand Avenue and Highway 101, expansion of the Grand Avenue bridge and the construction of walls to mitigate freeway noise. The project is now pegged at a whopping $28.5 million.
In March of 2019 when the council considered the plan to reconfigure the busy interchange, they voted 3-2 in favor of the most expensive proposal pegged at $22.7 million, with Mayor Caren Ray Russom and then freshman Councilman Jimmy Paulding voting no.
At the time, Russom was also against the less expensive project dubbed “Alternative 1,” at $12.3 million, because it would impact local businesses. Specifically, Katcho Achadjian’s gas station would have lost several pumps. Paulding supported “Alternative 1.”
With their estimated 25% increase in construction costs, staff is now suggesting potential cost-cutting changes, but they may or may not be allowed by CalTrans, which has approved a $6.6 million funding contribution to the project.
The evaluation will include analysis, “of the proposed components to see if they can be removed, reduced, or deferred, thereby reducing the initial project costs,” according to the staff report. In addition, “the five retaining walls currently included in the Roundabout Component are estimated to cost over $6 million dollars. If these walls were reduced or removed, the cost of construction would be significantly reduced.
“Another roundabout component that may be value-engineered is the renaming of a portion of Rodeo Drive and realignment of Rodeo Drive and Grace Lane, which is estimated to cost approximately $2 million dollars.”
If these expensive components were not needed, how did they end up part of the project in the first place? This is a public works project, it should be lean and mean from its inception with very little elimination of project components resulting from value engineering.
Even with the Caltrans $6.6 million contribution for the interchange project, Arroyo Grande does not have the funds to complete the project. The cost will ultimately be borne by the citizens of Arroyo Grande through a bond measure on a ballot, if approved by voters.
It’s hard to believe the voters of Arroyo Grande would pony-up for such an extravagant plan. Last March, at the onset of Covid-19, the local business community came out strong against a sales tax increase. The council heard them loud and clear and backed down from that proposal.
Additionally, the city council has recently signed a memorandum of agreement with the City of Pismo Beach to pay more than 40% of the $42 million suspected costs associated with the Central Coast Blue “toilet-to-tap” recycled water project. In the coming years, these costs will end up in the city’s water bills, using the 218 protest process which is near impossible for ratepayers to defeat.
These politicians talk about how to provide affordable housing, while at the same time they raise taxes and utility rates making it more expensive for all income levels, but especially lower income earners to live in Arroyo Grande.
A few years ago, a temporarily closure of the Brisco north bound off-ramp relieved congestion and provided for easier access for emergency vehicles to navigate under the freeway. A modified long-term plan, similar to “Alternative 1” that was proposed in 2019, would be simpler, cheaper and wiser.
In a Covid-19 world, traffic patterns will be changed well into the future, if not forever. The harsh reality is there are many more folks working from home and many fewer trips to shopping and restaurants.
It’s time for the city to dump the grandiose plan for a more austere solution.