WSDOT requirements created budget shortfall on project
By Don Nelson
Resolution 2016-37, a simple agenda item that started out as “necessary paperwork” for design of a pedestrian underpass below the Chewuch River bridge in Winthrop, grew into an extended discussion at last week’s Winthrop Town Council meeting.
Council members were vehemently unhappy with, but ultimately resigned to, unanticipated design requirements by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) that will add significantly to the underpass project’s cost.
The background is convoluted, bureaucratic and a bit mind-numbing. Town Planner Rocklynn Culp, who mostly tamped down her own frustration with the process, did her best to explain it to the council members.
They got it, but they didn’t like it.
The state-administered, federally financed underpass below the north end of the bridge is intended to relieve pedestrian/vehicle traffic conflicts at the nearby four-way stop, and to eventually be part of a proposed Riverwalk along the downtown side of the Chewuch River.
In a memo to the council, Culp asked the council to extend the town’s contract with the design firm SCJ Alliance to increase the amount authorized for design and permitting services.
Culp explained that WSDOT has required that the underpass project absorb the costs of replacing the rip rap (also known as scour protection) under the bridge — something the town had not originally anticipated. Additionally, the town must account for potential damage to fish species in the river during construction of the underpass.
“After working through several iterations of design to win approval from the WSDOT bridge office in Olympia, we are at 60 percent design completion and ready to start the biological assessment and permitting work,” Culp said in the memo. “The intensive design process, which we could not anticipate based on prior communications with WSDOT, ended up using most of our design budget, leaving us short for completing a biological assessment, permitting, and final design documents.”
Consequently, Culp said, she and Mayor Anne Acheson are working through Okanogan County to get funds to cover the additional costs. The county public works department distributes federal money for transportation projects through a competitive application process, and the funds are administered by WSDOT.
Following so far?
Culp said in her memo that while WSDOT supports the underpass project, “it has been our contention that their requirements are what put us over budget, and thus we think they should help us fill that funding gap. If we do not receive the funds through Okanogan County, we will continue to make the case with WSDOT that they have a responsibility to help.”
That failing, Culp said, Winthrop’s Plan B — or is it C? — is to try to finance the extra costs, estimated at about $155,000 that that town doesn’t have, through a hoped-for Complete Streets Award of $250,000. Complete Streets is relatively new, federally-funded program to reward towns that are actively working on street improvement projects that improve vehicle and pedestrian safety.
Culp told the council that the WSDOT bridge office is helpful but also adamant about its requirements, and “they’re really heavy on paperwork.” Resolution 2016-37 would extend the design time frame to keep the progress going in anticipation of additional funding, she said.
The design sign-off has taken about a year so far, Culp said. But while the process has been time-consuming and often a slog, Culp said she’s confident that the underpass can be completed.
“I’ve met with all the agencies,” she said. “Everybody agrees it’s doable.”
Then came the council members’ questions.
Rick Northcott asked why WSDOT isn’t repairing the rip rap itself.
“It’s nowhere on their [WSDOT’s] screen,” Culp said. “They have no plans to fix it anytime soon.” That will be up to the town, she said.
That wasn’t especially satisfactory to Northcott, who complained that the process has been “very frustrating … it’s like a game we’re caught in. Everyone wants a trail, and now we have to come up with more money.”
Culp noted that the trail is part of the town’s comprehensive plan, and “we’ve spent a lot of money to get to this point.” Canceling the project now, she said, would mean that Winthrop would have to give a lot of that money back.
“We have to go by their process,” she added.
Culp said the goal is to clear up the funding issues in time to complete the underpass project by September 2017. River water levels and their affect on fish will affect the construction timing, she said.
Council member Mike Strulic, sharing Northcott’s annoyance, asked if there was any point in “threatening” state bureaucrats. “That would complicate my task,” Culp said.
She did sugggest that council members contact elected state officials in the 12th District to see what influence they might be able to bring to bear. Communications from or between elected officials can be more effective, she said. “I’m staff … you’re elected,” she said. “I don’t want to get crossways with WSDOT. They know what we think about it.”
The council adopted Resolution 2016-37, with Strulic dissenting.
Winthrop seeks applicants for planning commission, Westernization board openings
The Town of Winthrop is seeking to fill vacancies on the planning commission and the Westernization Design Review Board.
The planning commission provides advice and recommendations to the Town Council and conducts public hearings as needed or required by Winthrop’s municipal code. Planning commissioners serve six-year terms.
The Westernization board reviews the design elements of buildings in the downtown area for compliance.
For information about the positions or to apply, contact Winthrop Town Hall at 996-2320, or email email@example.com.