Agencies clash over RC Blvd. project

Businesses report negative impact during reconstruction

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

After complaints about the negative impact to business during the temporarily blocked access of Ridgecrest Boulevard, officials at City Hall and IWV Water District clashed over who was to blame for the delays and reduced accessibility during reconstruction.

Members of the business community approached the public microphone at last week’s meeting of the Ridgecrest City Council to express concern.

“I know I speak on behalf of the chamber, and I think I speak on behalf of most of the community, when I say that we are very happy this project is finally under way,” said Ridgecrest Chamber of Commerce CEO Nathan Ahle. “That being said, I am concerned about some of the closures and traffic problems we’re seeing so far.”

When the project was first announced, city officials reported that they would reconstruct first one side of the street, then the other, in order to allow traffic flow both ways for the duration of the project. Now the street is blocked off from Downs to Mahan. Ahle noted that the signage is also confusing, with drivers getting conflicting messages about access.

He said that if the city could provide flagmen, signage and clear communication, chamber ambassadors stood ready to assist.

“This is a positive project. We just need to be sure it’s positive for business owners.”

David Matthews of the Knights of Columbus noted that lack of traffic flow had had an impact on attendance of the Knights’ weekly fundraisers.

Tina Warren of Rusty Warren Automotive said that although the block was purportedly open to business and residential traffic, the torn-up pavement, exposed utilities and industrial trucks — with no visible flagmen manning the scene — discouraged the approach of any driver.

She said that in addition to deterring business for those along the boulevard, the project management also posed a safety threat to citizens.

Jonathan Bushnell, who recently purchased John’s Pizza, said that months of reduced sales would crush a business that was just reestablishing itself — particularly in the food service industry, which is dependent upon foot traffic.

Janice Bottorff of SASS said that not only has she lost walk-in business, she has been without phone, internet and fax services, has had to contract out her printing, and watched her landscaping and sidewalk destroyed by contractors.

Paul Farris of Paul & Sons Automotive recommended city officials sit down with business owners to work out solutions for mitigation. “We do want our roads fixed — we have been waiting a long time for that — but it’s going to take some team work to make this work.”

City Manager Dennis Speer weighed in during the public comment period to say that the change of strategy was necessary when utility companies and other contractors failed to complete work by March of this year. He added that contractors are required to notify businesses and provide access to every reasonable extent.

“The water district is still working out there,” said Speer. “Our strategy was to work the north side of the street, then the south side. If you do that it provides traffic flow at all times and we can accommodate access.

“However Indian Wells Valley Water District did not have their water contractor out of there. He’s still there. As I understand it, he’s going to be there until mid July.”

He said that created a problem for the city, since the main contractor had only 210 days to complete the project before paving season ends. “That means we would have had to take it to next spring and have a partial job done, or allow the contractor to work the only way he can — which is to block off sections of the street. Thank you very much, Indian Wells Valley Water District.”

When the News Review offered IWVWD General Manager Don Zdeba an opportunity to comment, he noted that he was waiting to speak to Speer directly.

“While I do acknowledge the district has had issues that resulted in the delays to our schedule for completion, I find it personally disappointing that Mr. Speer chose to singularly place blame for the decision to close sections of Ridgecrest Boulevard squarely on the shoulders of the Water District,” he wrote in an e-mail to the News Review.

“Given the scope of this project, the number of utilities involved and the lack of as-built information available, it is by no means an easy project that should be expected to adhere to schedule.”

He said that the city did not give the district adequate notice to plan and execute the required bid process for hiring a contractor in order to complete the job in time. He said other delays were caused by the district having to excavate potholes to locate city sewerlaterals since they were marked as much as six feet off. The district also had to wait for other utilities to clear the way so that they could have access do to their work.

“The point I wish to make is that this project is quite involved and not a simple undertaking. No one utility is at fault and it is not my intent to point fingers. Rather we need to assess where the project stands today and what we can do together to accomplish what needs to be done while minimizing the impact on the businesses.

“I truly understand the pressure the city staff and all of the utilities are under to accomplish this work, but we all need to keep our emotions in check and respond objectively when confronted with the concerns of those we serve.”

When asked what recourse they had for the loss of business, city officials did not have an answer.

Story First Published: 2014-06-11