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Officials cite factors in road project delay

Sunday, June 16, 2002

DRIVING TO SCHOOLS

By Bob Miller ~ Southeast Missourian

Over the course of five years, a rural tract of land near Interstate 55 has been transformed into one of the most important scenes in the city.

Given the completion of two educational buildings -- a new high school which cost $20 million and a career and technology center which cost $11 million -- many wonder what the holdup is on the city's progress of improving a road to match the area's newfound importance, a project that will cost only a fraction of the dollars poured into the nearby buildings.

Cape Girardeau schools superintendent Mark Bowles acknowledged that it will be inconvenient to open the new high school Sept. 3 without Silver Springs Road widening work completed, a distinct possibility despite assurances that the project would be done on time.

Bowles also confirmed there is a large number of people who think the city has dragged its feet on the project, though he personally empathizes with city officials who face planning and scheduling problems.

City officials say the reason Silver Springs might not be done on time dates back to a pledge to voters to stick with the list of project priorities. The money wasn't there to move up the project, and city engineer Mark Lester said right-of-way purchases have pushed back progress slightly.

Silver Springs Road, currently a two-lane blacktop street, runs past both the new high school and the CTC. It connects South Kingshighway and Mount Auburn and will be widened to four lanes plus a left-turn lane.

The city accepted a $768,335 bid this week from Lappe Cement Finishing for the project, roughly $265,000 below the estimated cost.

City engineer Mark Lester warned at a joint Cape Girardeau City Council and school board meeting Monday night that the road immediately in front of the schools may be completed a month after the start of classes.

Since then,, the engineering department has been able to get enough work done to place the issue on Monday's council agenda instead of seeking council approval for bid acceptance in July. That alone will shave two weeks off Lester's month-late estimation.

The second phase of the project -- covering the distance from the school to South Kingshighway -- probably will be completed around the end of the year.

Lester said it is possible for the road directly in front of the school to be completed by the school's starting date. Regardless, the city will be cutting it close, too close for some who say the project should have been under construction long ago.

The Silver Springs project is being funded by the Transportation Trust Fund, a half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 1995 and renewed in August 2000. The taxes were approved based on a specific list of prioritized projects that were to be financed on a pay-as-you-go basis.

If collections from the first five years of the trust fund had been well over projections, the city could have possibly moved the Silver Springs project forward. That wasn't the case, but city manager Michael Miller said the current collections are on schedule.

Some involved in the project say the city is doing all it can.

Charlie Haubold, a member of the school board and the Cape Girardeau Planning and Zoning Commission, said "I think the city is going full blast as fast as they can to get the road in front of the school before it starts."

Mayor Jay Knudtson said he has been on top of this situation since he was elected in April.

"I've been in contact with many community leaders who have been saying that the completion of that road before the start of school was very important," Knudtson said. "I am confident the city is moving along as fast as it can."

Knudtson said the city strayed from normal procedure to expedite the process and let bids out before the right of way was acquired, which is "virtually unheard of."

Knudtson said the city would have likely given the project a higher priority had it known back in 2000, before the trust fund renewal was placed on the ballot.

"I've always applauded the previous council with the way they sold the Transportation Trust Funds and not deviated from the plan that was explained to voters," Knudtson said.

Right of way issues

Lester said there still is some ironing out to do on Silver Springs with right-of-way purchases from adjoining landowners Bob Drury, Jim Drury and Earl Norman.

None of the three could be reached Friday.

Lester said negotiations have been ongoing over things like sewer installations. He also said that the original designs in front of the school were changed to include a turn lane.

"And every time we make a change to the plans, we have to look at it and ask if we can afford it," Lester said. "We have to analyze it and see what impact the changes might have on the street project and to other property owners."

Everything considered, Lester said, the project is moving along nicely compared to other projects.

"There's a lot of little things involved in any street project," he said. "Quite frankly, we're moving pretty quick."

bmiller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127


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