Texas Road plans discussed at council and open house

 

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following post is two stories on the Texas Road issue – the first is the story stemming from the Sept. 3 town council meeting. The second is the story in the print edition from the Aug. 28 open house at the UCCU Complex).

By Ron Giofu

 

TEXAS ROAD RESIDENTS WANT ORIGINAL RESTORATION PLANS, NOT SCALED DOWN OPTIONS

A group of Texas Road residents went to Tuesday night’s council meeting to tell elected officials they are not happy with plans to scale back restoration plans for their road.

Joanne DiPierdomenico spoke on behalf of the group in attendance and was applauded after telling town council they still expect a new road, storm sewers and sidewalks. The two modified options presented at last Wednesday evening’s open house won’t cut it for the residents that turned out at Tuesday night’s meeting, with residents still preferring the original $6 million option council approved during budget deliberations.

Council has asked administration to prepare a report outlining financial impacts and funding sources for the original $6 million project as well as the two modified options.

“To say that I was disappointed in June with the news that the Texas Road project was to be put in abeyance just before the work was to start would be an understatement,” said DiPierdomenico. “I understood that council had received misleading information and that the improvements were only being put on hold until financial problems could be assessed and solutions discussed. But after seeing the two plans that have been proposed, I am no longer disappointed. I’m angry.”

DiPierdomenico said the people she has spoken to about the issue are also angry. She quoted 2002 and 2009 reports from director of engineering and infrastructure Lou Zarlenga which she said recommended sewers, paving and sidewalks and in 2011 “we thought we had finally been heard.

“The plans we were shown for our roads exceeded our expectations,” she continued. “However, all that has gone by the wayside. I have seen the two new proposals. Neither one has addressed the storm sewer problem. A wide road with a rumble strip might be appropriate for a rural road like Thomas Road, between Texas Road and Alma St., but is woefully inadequate for a road that has almost 200 homes and serves as a thoroughfare for another 240 in the Kingsbridge subdivision.”

DiPierdomenico said she was told “sidewalks crumble and need to be replaced often” but told council she has lived in Amherstburg over 30 years and hasn’t seen a rash of sidewalk replacements. She added that without storm sewers, “I guess we would just be expected to drive through Lake Texas until things dried up.” She also expressed concern over cars hydroplaning through standing water.

“To accept these money-saving short cuts is an insult to the residents of Texas Road,” DiPierdomenico added. “We have been put off for so many years with promises that the job would be done properly and completely, not piecemeal in the future. Some of our residents, newly arrived in Canada, helped build our town with their hard labour. Our taxes have been duly collected every year. Now it is our turn. There are those who would feed our fear that our taxes will shoot through the roof if we insist on asking for everything. I’m not sure if you noticed, but our taxes have not gone down in the past, even without any improvements on Texas Road. Our taxes will always continue to creep up, but we won’t see any benefit from it.”

Residents of Texas Road deserve more than “good enough,” DiPierdomenico added, stating “we deserve what every busy urban street requires: storm sewers, real sidewalks and a decent road.” She believed anything less “sets a precedent for low expectations for future development.”

DiPierdomenico suggested that if money is the problem, town council should put other jobs “that seem to keep cropping up” in abeyance instead.

“Why should we always be the ones who are made to do without?”

She added that a focus of today’s world is on the need for a healthy lifestyle and not everyone uses places like the UCCU Complex to accomplish that.

“Thirty-three years and still waiting,” she stated. “The Texas Road project is not going to go away. We are not going to go away and we are not going to be satisfied with a few crumbs thrown our way.”

Councillor John Sutton made the motion asking for the report exploring financial options for the original and two modified proposals. He said good questions were asked by residents at the open house and wanted to ensure council had all the correct answers were getting out there.

Sutton added council has been “very unanimous” on the matter dating back to 2012 and believes the report he requested will give council and the public information on funding sources and financial obligations. He said council has already made one decision based on “incorrect information” and that “I think it’s important to have all the options in front of us.”

CAO Mike Phipps said at the open house his review of the 2013 capital budget showed there was “no plan” on how to pay for the $6 million option in its entirety and that administration would have to do a lot of work to show how such an option could be paid for.

“I feel the pain of the people of Texas Road,” said Councillor Carolyn Davies.

Davies said Texas Road is the “gateway to the subdivision” and that she was “really excited” when the original restoration option was unveiled.

“I really hope we can figure something out,” she said. “I hope the numbers work.”

Councillor Diane Pouget also found it important to have all the information before a decision was made but wondered if a new granular surface that Zarlenga said is needed would drive up costs. Zarlenga said under the $6 million option, digging down and putting new granular was already part of the costs.

Deputy Mayor Ron Sutherland preferred seeing the focus on the $6 million option, as he suggested the town “do it all” and rebuild the road per the original plans approved earlier in 2013.

MIXED EMOTIONS FROM PUBLIC OVER MODIFIED TEXAS ROAD OPTIONS

A second open house was held on the Texas Road project, this time with two modified options highlighted, with some people liking them and others disliking them.

The town presented two scaled down options of the project – one valued at $3.55 million and the other at $3.73 million – as possible replacements for the original $6 million project that was approved by town council earlier this year.

Both modified options eliminate curb and gutter and leave the ditch on the south side of the road still open, though the $3.73 option allows for a wider paved trail on the north side and a bike lane on the south side.

For Nick Salvati, any work is good work.

“It’s OK,” he said, after looking at the drawings that were posted around the upstairs community room at the UCCU Complex last Wednesday evening. “Whatever they do, it’s OK with me.”

Salvati said he was fine with the options as long as it gets done.

Fred and Edna Meloche were happier with what they saw last Wednesday evening than what they saw from the original $6 million project.

“We like these proposals much better,” said Fred.

Fred added he hopes the road gets done as he said there are areas that get flooded after a heavy rain.

“The other one was a waste of money,” Edna stated.

Edna was preferential to the second modified option due to it having a bike path.

“Bike paths should be on every road. It should be a priority on all roads,” she said.

Asked whether they are hopeful the project gets done this time, Edna laughed and said “we just take everything with a grain of salt.”

“It’s a long time coming,” said Rocco Mancini, who attended the open house on behalf of the Verdi Club. “It’s a good thing. How they’ll finance it is another thing with the issues that are going on with the town.”

Mancini said “it’s all about what is doable” and believes the final decision is dependent on the wishes of Texas Road residents.

“It all comes down to the individual residents of Texas Road and what they want,” he said.

Rick Fryer, a former town councillor who lives on Texas Road, said he would rather see everything done at once and not piecemealed. He said there are some residents that have waited 40 years to get the road done and if it takes another 18 months “to do it properly,” then so be it.

“Let’s not piecemeal a project that’s been waiting on the books for 40 years,” he said.

Putting a rumble strip along one side is “an antiquated, old way of doing business” stating he doesn’t see rumble strips in LaSalle, Kingsville or Lakeshore.

“It doesn’t provide safety for residents or pedestrians,” he said.

Bike lanes should be put on both sides of the street, Fryer added, believing that a mixed use pathway would not work as pedestrians would have to go around cyclists and possibly into the roadway if a pathway was shared.

“Bike paths are bike paths, walkways are walkways,” he continued. “We have to get rid of this mindset they can be shared. They are two separate entities.”

Fryer didn’t want to see Texas Road become an election issue in the 2014 municipal race, noting it is “a contentious issue” for people who reside there. He added he believed sewer work would extend the life of the sewage plant as infiltration from Texas Road and the area of Knobb Hill Dr. would be eliminated.

“It’s got to be done properly. People have lived there a lot longer than I have,” said the 11-year Texas Road resident. “I’d rather see it done properly than piecemealed together. Do it once and you are done for the next 30 years.”

Director of engineering and infrastructure Lou Zarlenga said more than 70 people came out to the open house, an increase over the one in May. He said many were happy the “bells and whistles” were eliminated but there were some that didn’t like the scaled down options.

“There was a few, but that’s to be expected,” he said.

Zarlenga said people who opposed the scaled down options stressed safety and wanted curb and gutter, but he believed the options presented were equally safe. The $3.73 million option could be added on to in future years, he said, with sewers and curb and gutters among the items the could be built on later.

Texas Road has seen reconstruction options being studied for ten years, he added.

“I’m looking forward to getting the project underway. It’d be nice to put the contractors to work and get this redone.”

CAO Mike Phipps said a group of residents came just after the open house opened at 4 p.m. opposing changes to the original $6 million project. He said they wanted to address council with that request scheduled to be granted at Tuesday night’s council meeting (held after the print issue went to press).

Others, he said, preferred the scaled down options.

“Clearly there is a divide amongst owners along Texas Road,” said Phipps. “Some are willing to compromise and some simply aren’t.”

Phipps added administration and engineers have to get together and discuss the input given by the public and use that to form a report to council. If council were to stick with the $6 million option, they would also have to ask administration how that would be paid for as Phipps noted his review of the 2013 capital budget showed there was “no plan” on how to address it financially.

“There was not a solid plan to pay for it despite council being assured it was no problem,” claimed Phipps.

Texas Road was strip developed while still an Anderdon Township road, Phipps said, and it became “a problem Amherstburg inherited.” He added that if the road was in a subdivision, the developer would be responsible for amenities and pass those along to lot buyers whereas the cost of Texas Road is being paid for by “every owner or renter in Amherstburg.”

Even at the $3.55 million or $3.73 options, Phipps said the town would likely have to pay for it through a combination of revenues, tax and debt.

“Now we need to wait and see what the project is going to be,” he said. “If it’s the monster ($6 million) project, we’ve got some serious work on how it’s going to be financed.”

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