June 21, 2012 | Volume 42, No. 25

DOT expands downtown sidewalk job

State Department of Transportation officials said this week they’ve secured $500,000 to complete sidewalk and curb repair in conjunction with paving work alongside Main Street and Second Avenue.

“We have identified a funding source. Our project construction manager is working to negotiate a price with the contractor. We still need some additional permits, but the wheels are in motion to do all the sidewalks,” said Reuben Yost, chief of construction, maintenance and operations for DOT in Southeast.

The initial $2.1 million in funding for the project came from about $5 million in federal funds spent annually for “bridge and pavement rehabilitation” throughout Southeast, Yost said. Those funds – which also pay for chip-coating and brushing roadsides each summer – usually are only for repairing broken sidewalks or for bringing existing walks up to federal disability law requirements, he said.

But because it was unclear when the state might return to finish the adjoining walks, this year’s project was expanded, Yost said. “We recognize this is a unique case. We’re fixing the pavement and (some of the walks), so it made sense to stretch the limitations of that funding.”

Matt Boron, maintenance foreman for the DOT crew in Haines, said this week that former local DOT foreman James Sage and Gary Franzen, former regional chief of maintenance and operations, put together initial funding for the project about four years ago, when Sage learned Franzen had about $2 million remaining from other projects.

“It didn’t go through (DOT) headquarters or the legislature. It was leftover from the feds, and we qualified for it,” Boron said.

“James found out Gary was sitting on that money and that he was looking for a spot for it,” Boron said. Sage made a case for spending the money on Main Street, where manholes were popping up out of the paved surface, Boron said.

“Franzen said, ‘We can do it.’ We knew that $2.1 million wouldn’t get it all done, but it would be a great, big start,” Boron said. “On projects like this, if you get the ball rolling, the extra money would show up from somewhere. (Sage) begged Franzen to bring the money here.”

Franzen, reached in Juneau, this week corroborated Boron’s account of the source of the funds. “That was part of my job to decide where the money should go and I decided (Haines) is where it should have gone.”

That the project has been in planning for several years explains why new walks and curbs were scheduled for places like the Elks Lodge, which has since closed, Boron said. “When we laid out the project, the Elks Lodge was open. Once it’s on paper, it’s hard to switch up,” in part because not all supervisors on the project are local, Boron said.

Spending decisions typically are made at the headquarters level and go through the State Transportation Improvement Plan, a years-long process of public review. The local project sidestepped the process, he said.

“It wasn’t on anyone’s STIP or radar. It wouldn’t have been fixed in 10 years if that pool of money hadn’t come up,” Boron said. “Local boys fought for this. It wasn’t a half-baked thing.”

Boron said regional DOT officials Yost and regional director Al Clough didn’t know the full history of the project because they weren’t at their current jobs when Franzen and Sage arranged to bring the money here.

Jeremy Woodrow of DOT said the additional work will replace sidewalks adjacent to the entire paving limits along Main Street.