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1/31/2013 5:00:00 PM
Welcome Center project to continue unabated

Marty Bachman

BLYTHE - The Blythe City Council is moving forward with its plan to build a Welcome Center, according to a staff report at its Jan 22 meeting, with only Councilman Mike Evans showing any opposition.

Public Works Director Jim Rodkey said the newly re-named Hobsonway, Riviera Drive/I-10 Ramp Improvements project has cost the city $377,000 as of November 2012.

"It is estimated we need an additional $60,000 to complete the PS&E (plans, specs and estimates) and environmental documents," Rodkey wrote in his staff report. "We will be well within the budget of our cooperative agreement, which is $533,000. Please remember that the $60k is an estimate."

The costs Rodkey quoted are for the study and design to move the current I-10 off-ramp that now is a few feet west of the California Ag Station entry-point into California. Moving the off-ramp and building the Welcome Center will cost several million dollars more and the council has no source of money to move forward beyond completing the current study.

Rodkey said that the outstanding items necessary to complete the study were a modified access report and a geotechnical design report/material report, both of which the city re-submitted to Caltrans in late December 2012. He said he expected to receive comments on the reports from Caltrans in the coming week. He said Caltrans approved the soil testing memo and he had received numerous comments from Caltrans concerning the historic property survey report (HPSR).

"Consultant is going through comments and we will have a better idea next week on the status of the re-submittal," Rodkey wrote in his staff report. The status of other items is dependent upon the approval of the HPSR and the plans, specs and estimate package.

Evans asked about the use of Measure A tax funds for the study and Rodkey said that the money spent already was not just for a study but that it included survey design drawings and engineering to actually build the project, "either next week or next year or five years from now."

"It is in the drawer, it is ready for construction, and when you're looking for funding for projects, transportation funding that is not Measure A, when you have something shovel-ready in the drawer it moves you way up the list as far as qualifying for that funding," Rodkey said. "That's what the previous council's objective was - to have this shovel ready so that we could find other funding..."

Rodkey alleged that to not spend the additional $60,000 would mean the council had wasted the other $377,000 already spent.

Evans also questioned the straight-up land swap between the city and property owners Bob Hull and Mike Farrage, with whom the city has memorandums of understanding. City Manager Dave Lane said that it is too early to have appraisals of properties.

Councilman Joey Deconinck said the landowners of property the city wanted had had trouble getting water to it. He said owners abandoned the property for farming when the freeway came in back in the 1970s. Deconinck said that the city was trading farmable property.

Evans asked if the council did not spend the additional $60,000, if everything the city had done up to this point would still remain valid for a time so that the council could re-evaluate the project before spending more money on it.

"If the council elects to kill the project, then the environmental documents will be incomplete, the comments from Caltrans for the historical property survey will be lost and they will have to be revisited and re-engineered at a later date at a significantly higher cost," Rodkey said.

Rodkey said that if the council did not get approvals now and opted to table the project, the council would risk having to spend the money again in the future if it decided to move forward.

Evans said that even with the completion of the design, he didn't see that as broke as the city is and as broke as the government is, that this is going to actually be a reality.

"I am totally against this project and I think this money should be put into our roads," Evans said.

"It makes sense to finish the project and put it away," Lane said.

Evans said that he understood the foresight and vision behind the project but he doesn't believe the city can move forward with the project and suggested tabling it.

"Granted, $60,000 isn't a whole lot of money for our roads by any means," Evans said. "But after that happens we'll be talking about a Welcome Center after they build our ramp and I believe that's going to be more money that we're going to have to find, and I just don't know when enough is enough..."

Deconinck said that Caltrans is excited about the project and that people were talking about it in the Coachella Valley where it has many supporters.

"They'll have some money, I believe, cause they're behind this," said Deconinck. "There's not one negative thing through the state about this project."

Kathy Zidar, a Canadian who winters in Blythe, questioned why the council was having a discussion on the Welcome Center project.

"This is exactly the conversation that we had a few months ago... and I think at that time we decided, or it was thought, that the $60,000 was a pittance for getting road work done in Blythe," Zidar said.

She said that the city had a better chance of receiving a grant if the project were ready to go.

"I'm just wondering why this all is coming up again now?" she said.

Evans responded he represents the citizens and voters of Blythe and that the majority he has spoken to were not behind the project or willing to spend any more money on it.

"Are they willing to throw away the $377,000 that has already been spent on the project," she asked. "To me that makes a lot less sense than spending a few thousand dollars more to complete it."

Evans said most of his constituents think the city had thrown away enough money already.

The council then marked the item "filed and received" without taking any action.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, February 1, 2013
Article comment by: snowbirds rule

Evans don't know diddly! $60.000 to fix roads really!!! You need a heck of a lot more money then that to fix roads. That's not even a dent to fix roads. Just finish the project and move on. Quit hating message from the snowbirds!

Posted: Friday, February 1, 2013
Article comment by: @ Buster Webb

Mr. Webb, When building as a public agency, the plans, specs, and estimates have to be approved by a list of highly paid professionals. The specs are created by the architect and then turns them into plans in which they can then go out to bid and get estimates to see what the cost of the project is. But before they can go out to bid they have to submit the plans and specs to DSA (Department of the State Architect) for approval. This is all a lengthy and drawn out process which is not cheap. After DSA says that all of the specs and plans are approved you can go out to bid the project which again is a costly and lengthy amount of time because of the regulations that are set forth for advertising to ensure that all interested parties have an equal and fair chance at bidding and winning the contract for the project. Add the cost of the Architect, plan approval fees for DSA and Advertising costs and it adds up to a large sum of money. Keep in mind that this cost does not include the wages of the personnel that it is going to take to get all of this work done before a single finger can be lifted to start construction on this project. I hope this has provided some clarification on why it is being estimated that it will cost $60,000.00. I too disagree with a lot of things that the city does but at the same time I have seen the amount of money that it takes to get a project approved and moving forward on a public level.

Posted: Friday, February 1, 2013
Article comment by: Buster Webb

"It is estimated we need an additional $60,000 to complete the PS&E (plans, specs and estimates) and environmental documents," Rodkey wrote in his staff report.

HUH $60,000 just for papper work!!!! Why dont we put that money aside for the roads or an employee. Or like Steve Palermo posted "STOP DIGGING THAT HOLE". Evens is the only smart one on the council!! Nuff said for now.

Posted: Friday, February 1, 2013
Article comment by: Bob Weete

Site Administrator's note: A portion of this comment has been removed because it violated our Terms of use Agreement. Please keep comments succinct; 300 words or less is optimal. Comments that are excessively verbose, rambling or too long for reasonable review may not be posted.

Posted: Friday, February 1, 2013
Article comment by: Enquiring Minds

@Tom Farrage, Safety? We thought CalTrans & the CHP were responsible for public safety on Cal highways? Why does the City need to get involved? One of the reasons being floated for building this expensive project is it will get more travelers off the highway, and that they will then decide to spend some of their money to support the Blythe merchants. Then there is the off-set group of "locals" that blow off the local merchants and save a couple bucks by purchasing across the border (Flying J). Is this project actually just a pacifier for the guilty conscious?

Posted: Friday, February 1, 2013
Article comment by: Tom Farrage

There I was returning from flying J back to Blythe and there she was lifting her top on the freeway under the sign while her friend was taking the pictures, "Welcome to California" Cars and trucks were swerving, honking and of course slowing down on the interstate.
One thing is for sure, it wasn't the first time and it won't be the last,,, There is a safety issue here.

Posted: Thursday, January 31, 2013
Article comment by: Steve Palermo

Kathy Zidar: I believe it was humorist Will Rogers who once said,"If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging." Blythe has used funds collected and marked for specific projects, that were used for "emergency" purposes. There is still an outstanding 10 million dollars on infrastructure upgrades made way back in 2002. It's way past time to stop digging, but now will have to do. As my old man would say,"You've played the tune, now it's time to pay the piper."

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