Tensions mounted among members of Avon City Council on Tuesday over the budget and the construction of a new pedestrian and bicycle bridge along one side of Avon Road at the Interstate 70 underpass. The heated debate sparked questions about how the council should spend its money and whether budgets for seven-figure projects should be put to a public vote.
The Avon Road project, known as the Underpass Project, aims to increase safety along this section and improve connectivity between the north and south sides of Avon.
The project would involve moving the sidewalk behind the columns of the bridge and widening it, adding landscaping to the area, improving drainage, using heating elements to melt snow, and building shelters to prevent leaching. ‘Ice and snow accumulation along the sidewalk, improve lighting and make improvements to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Project constriction is subject to approval by the Colorado Department of Transportation, which typically takes three months. With current plans, construction will begin in mid-August and end on November 1.
The underpass project is included in the 2021 capital projects fund. This fund is mainly financed by a property transfer tax of 2% and by additional contributions from the general city fund. This fund is administered by Justin Hildreth, the town engineer. According to the 2021 budget, the capital projects fund “represents the city’s commitment to a multi-year CIP [capital improvement program] and relates directly to other long-term city plans and policies.
The price tag
As council members agreed on the necessity and urgency of the project, the fight began when the project award was presented.
According to Hildreth, the CDOT told the city that it did not have funds for this type of project. There are grants of $ 300,000 to $ 400,000, which CDOT awards every three years. However, these are anything but taken for granted.
While the 2021 Capital Projects Fund includes $ 900,000 for the project, council voted to award the project to Gould Construction for $ 943,214. This award also increased the budget to $ 1,051,835 to fund a contingency project, inspections and construction administration.
“I think it’s really tax irresponsible as a city to just bite the bullet,” board member Chico Thuon said. “Why can’t we fix the situation until we can get these funds from CDOT or stand in line for funds from CDOT?” I think it’s so irresponsible that you’re even proposing that you’re not going to try to get funding from CDOT. “
“CDOT doesn’t care about pedestrians or bicycles, they made it clear, they don’t fund these kinds of projects,” Pro Mayor Tem Amy Phillips said of it.
Another concern expressed was about the scale of the project. This initial project will only fund improvements to the west side of Avon Road, with plans to build the other side over the next several years. Hildreth has said he expects the scope and cost of completing the other side to be the same. “We could add the second phase to the CIP in several years when we have sufficient income to cover the project,” he said.
All council members agreed that this should be viewed as a single project with two phases and that future budgets for the IPC and the city should be changed to reflect this.
“It’s a health and safety issue,” said Mayor Sarah Smith Hymes. “We just decided to spend $ 746,000 on special events this summer. The cost of things always bothers me, but the reality is that when you need something and it’s what it costs, you have to pay for it.
Obtain the opinion of voters
When considering the full scope of the underpass project to improve both sides of Avon Road, the price exceeds $ 2 million, making some members wary of a council vote without taxpayers having their say.
“This is substantial money, we have to let our community make the decision on this,” said Council member Scott Prince, who put forward a motion to put the project to an informal public vote, similar to this. which was done with the Hahnewald barn in 2019..
“Since the Wildridge Bike Project, we’ve had a few different collaborations with the community – the Barn and West Beaver Creek Boulevard,” Thuon said. “We’ve had a few hiccups over the past few years so I think it’s only smart that we value the opinions of our constituents.”
However, not all council members believed it was up to the voters to decide these issues.
“I understand that $ 2 million to do both sides is a lot, but I can think of at least 20 projects [near this amount] that we did without sending it to a vote, ”Phillips said. “I think it’s a disgusting way of doing business. We are elected, including me, every four years to represent the people. “
Council member Tamra Underwood echoed that sentiment. “Of course, we’ve always wanted to get as many opinions as possible, but we were elected to make some of these tough decisions ourselves,” she said.
During the vote, the motion to submit the project to an informal vote failed four to two, with Thuon and Prince dissenting.
The value of the project
In debates over the price of the project, several board members spoke about the value the project would bring not only to Avon as a whole, but to specific communities in the city.
“If we kick the streets and say we’re going to do it in two or three years, if we get a grant, I think that means those residents who live along Nottingham Road that we don’t value them not as much as we value people who live closer to the center, ”said Lindsay Hardy, board member. “I think we have to elevate this part of Avon as we continue to elevate the rest of Avon. I think it’s a great place to put our money.
Specifically, the project would impact the north side of Avon, including properties along Nottingham Road. These properties, according to Phillips, represent about $ 67 million worth of residential properties.
“Residents, taxpayers and businesses on the north side of the freeway deserve the respect and attention this project will bring to it,” Underwood said.
After all that was discussed, finally, the council voted to get this project going.
Journalist Ali Longwell can be reached at [email protected]