City approves Downs reconstruction project

City approves Downs reconstruction projectBy BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

The Ridgecrest City Council took a big step forward with the Downs Street project Wednesday evening by approving an item to fully reconstruct and pave the east side of South Downs Street from Ridgecrest Boulevard to Upjohn Avenue. Residents, particularly those affiliated with the Ridgecrest Charter School, were present to express their appreciation for what they said was a much-needed, long-overdue project.

Council approved Griffith Construction Company’s $653,147 bid with $66,130 added to include concrete curbs, gutters and sidewalks and an extra $32,657.35 set aside for construction contingency funds.

The project went out for bid on Nov. 7, and the city received only two responses, both of which were above the estimate from Wildan Engineering, the city’s consulting firm.

“I’m disappointed we only got two bids,” said member of the public Stan Rajtora. “I’d like to hope that’s not something we’re going to hear in the future. Let’s look into why we can’t get more than two bids.”

City Engineer Loren Culp said that the staff noticed the job in numerous online locations as well as local media and “made sure news of the project was spread as far as possible.”

The majority of the funding ($651,326) comes from a Federal Transportation Improvement Program grant, which requires a local match of $84,387. The addition of curbs, gutters and sidewalks and contingency funds brings the city’s fiscal impact to $183,174.35.

Councilmember Lindsey Stephens pointed out that this approved item is just one in a long string of engineering studies, design contracts and the removal of a Southern California Edison power pole – all of which brings the project cost to nearly $4 million.

The city lost a lawsuit against SCE which would have required the company to move a power pole that was holding up the project. The $4 million cost does not include the legal fees associated with the lawsuit.

“This project has been concerning to me because of the price tag,” said Stephens. “The loss of the SCE case really concerns me too. It made me wonder – at what price point would this project be a no-go for our city?

“I do think the road absolutely needs to be resurfaced … but the $4 million for a half-mile stretch of road, that’s a lot of money. That makes it a hard pill to swallow.”

She suggested that the city contact a resource through the League of California Cities that helps oversee utility companies that overcharge for services. “Looking at something like that for this large an item would probably be a good idea for us,” she said.

Despite Stephens’s concern about the price, council — as well as the public — unanimously expressed the need to bring the stretch of one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares up to snuff.

“Any improvement to Downs is an improvement to the children’s safety,” said Eric Bruen, board chair of Ridgecrest Charter School. “We have the funding in place, we have the design in place. This boils down to a project that has needed to be done for many years.”

Bruen said that the school has been working closely with the city to make sure that any of the school’s improvements would fall in line with what is expected of the Downs Street project.

The project includes expanding the stretch of road to four lanes with a median dividing north- and southbound traffic. There will also be a crosswalk leading directly to the eastern face of the campus with flashing beacons on either side to warn drivers of pedestrian traffic.

Members of the public requested that the intersection of Downs Street and Upjohn Avenue be addressed with either stoplights or protected crosswalks, but Public Works Director Bard Lower said that would hinge on a Systematic Safety Analysis Report Program survey that the city recently approved.

“You have to have certain warrants before you can put in stopsigns or stoplights,” said Lower. “Wildan will be reviewing our intersections for warrants, but until we have those we cannot move forward with stoplights.”

Mayor Pro Tem Mike Mower made the motion to approve the contract with the additive bid for curb, gutter and sidewalks. Council approved the item unanimously with Stephens abstaining.

The next council meeting will be Wednesday, Dec. 5, 6 p.m. at City Hall. For details see ridgecrest-ca.gov/ridgecrest-city-council.

Story First Published: 2018-11-30