Our View: City, CDOT, Scott should compromise
May 30, 2010
The Steamboat Springs City Council should reject a proposal to pay several days' worth of overtime to Scott Contracting in exchange for the company not working the first few days of September. In its stead, we hope all entities involved in the downtown U.S. Highway 40 construction project — the city, Scott Contracting, Mainstreet Steamboat Springs, and the Colorado Department of Transportation among them — work together in good faith to come up with a resolution that postpones the continuation of the project — or at least the adverse effects — until after the busy Labor Day weekend.
As it stands, Scott is required to stop work on Lincoln Avenue on June 30 and not continue again until Sept. 1, thereby providing two months of relative calm in our historic downtown district during the height of summer tourism. But if the intent of the cessation was to make Steamboat a bit more hospitable for our visitors, it's hard to understand why consideration wasn't given to Labor Day weekend. The three-day weekend in early September is a popular one for visitors, with a number of events taking place across the city and county. Now, we have to deal with this painfully obvious shortcoming in the contract.
This year, Labor Day weekend falls Sept. 4 through 6, and Scott Contracting is entitled to return to work Sept. 1. Although it's unlikely Scott would have its crews work on the holiday, we could understand why they'd want to take advantage of whatever work days are available once the calendar turns to September. Don't forget, Scott Contracting faces a daily fine if the entire project isn't finished by Nov. 12. Considering the project was 3 1/2 weeks behind schedule at last check, Scott officials aren't likely to be sympathetic to the city's plight, especially if it means a dent in their own pocketbooks. Frankly speaking, it is CDOT's and the city's problem to resolve.
Toward that end, Steamboat Springs Public Works Director Philo Shelton has drafted a proposal by which the city would pay the difference between regular and overtime pay for Scott Contracting to make up those three early September days at another time. Shelton's intent is reasonable — he's looking to protect the city and local businesses and residents by making Labor Day week as inviting as possible for the tourists we rely on to fuel our economy. We just don't think using taxpayer dollars on this project is the right approach, particularly when there's no way to accurately calculate what the return on investment would be.
So where do we go from here? Tuesday's City Council meeting will include not only consideration of Shelton's proposal, but also an appearance by state Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, whose presence was requested by council President Cari Hermacinski. Hermacinski said she's frustrated with the progress, or lack thereof, of the highway project and wants some state-level representation to intervene. Some of her frustration appears to be fair — that the initial promises of rolling street closures haven't turned out to be accurate is just one example. On the other hand, we unwittingly raised community expectations by putting too much stock in the bonus for finishing the project by July 1. In accordance with the Nov. 12 deadline — the one that truly matters to Scott — are they falling behind, or did they do their calculations and realize that they would spend more than the amount of the bonus to get the bonus, concluding that it was not worth the effort given the weather-related setbacks?
It's tough to expect any real changes to a CDOT-approved work contract, but we do think there's room for Scott Contracting, the city and CDOT to collaborate on a solution that works for Scott, our downtown businesses and all of us. One idea: What if Scott uses those first couple of days in September for staging, for the real disruptive work, such as excavation, to begin the Tuesday after Labor Day? There's no doubt such preliminary work will be needed after a two-month break. It would be low impact and less obtrusive for businesses and visitors. And extend the deadline to Nov. 14 or 15 in return for their cooperation.
Whatever the solution, it shouldn't result in the expenditure of city money. In the meantime, we urge everyone to take time to look at the intersections that are nearly complete and picture how beautiful and more pedestrian-friendly our Main Street is going to be when the reconstruction is finished. The ugly spring weather has turned our attention too much toward the how it is being completed and away from the quality of the finished product.