County tries to accelerate design, plan on projects - The Explorer: Pima Pinal

County tries to accelerate design, plan on projects

It's intended to take advantage of competitive pricing

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Posted: Tuesday, May 4, 2010 11:00 pm | Updated: 8:19 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

To take advantage of an "extremely competitive" construction market, the Pima County Department of Transportation is accelerating its planning and design processes to bring road projects to bid quickly, according to Rick Ellis, engineering division manager for the county agency.

"The pricing we're getting right now is absolutely rock bottom," Ellis said. "The funding is on my side, for once. It's nice to have that discussion in that context, and have options. It's a phenomenal opportunity."

Because the county cannot be sure "how much longer we're going to get that," it is condensing design time frames to "really be aggressive on our delivery schedules." What once might have taken three or four years to plan and design is now being done in two years. It's a compression of time to plan and design road work, rather than the construction itself, Ellis said.

"Two years isn't all that long when you look at a capital project, design to advertise," Ellis said. "In the past, we've been as high as four years on some projects. Two is our target."

In the Northwest, the acceleration may become most visible on the 5-mile reconstruction of Magee / Cortaro Farms from Thornydale to Oracle.

"We have a rare opportunity to push out all five miles of Magee and be done with it," Ellis said. "We want to take advantage of what we can afford. I've never seen a situation like this."

In terms of scheduling, Magee is "probably more than a year ahead" of its earlier time frame, Ellis said. Planning had been completed. Detail design work is moving ahead. The central portion of Magee, from Mona Lisa to La Cañada, would be constructed first, followed by the western section, Thornydale to Mona Lisa, and finally La Cañada to Oracle.

"The pieces are all lining up that way," Ellis said. The county expects to begin construction the first of next year. "We are moving very quickly."

Ellis consistently hears community response to condense the impacts of construction. When he mentioned the possibility of a condensed Magee schedule at Thursday's meeting of the La Cañada Magee Neighborhood Association, Ellis saw heads nodding in agreement.

"Don't necessarily stretch them out," Ellis said. "It's possible we could have all three of these segments under way with construction activity simultaneously. We ask for people's patience, we've been given it, and they have still echoed that sentiment. 'We'll live with a lot of pain all at once'."

"I'm really happy to see people still believe that's the best way to go about it," Ellis said.

Ten years ago, when Ann Day was elected to the board of supervisors, the Northwest was in "total gridlock.

"We're back in total gridlock because of all these road projects," she told the La Cañada / Magee gathering.

Resurfacing of Ina is essentially complete. Work on La Cañada at the Ina intersection should be completed in June, Ellis said. Reconstruction of La Cañada is moving at pace.

"That's as bad as it's going to look," Ellis told the gathering. "It starts looking better from here on out." Spring rains slowed major construction, and encouraged weeds.

A citizens advisory report on the rebuilding of La Cholla from Magee to Tangerine has been written, with further consideration by the board of supervisors in June, Day said.

Lessons learned and strategies implemented elsewhere are being applied to planning and design work for La Cholla. Ellis anticipates taking that project to bid in summer 2011. "We're still on track for that, we're still committing to that. If there is any possibility to move that up, we will."

With the accumulation of at least three major road projects in the Northwest, "it's going to be ugly for a little while," Ellis said. "When we're done, I don't expect to have to come up here except for" signal time adjustments "and ribbon cuttings."

Day wonders how long county can hold tax line

Pima County Supervisor Ann Day braced residents within the La Cañada Magee Neighborhood Association about how much longer the county can "hold the line" against higher taxes.

Arizona is "broke," Day said, and state government is pushing more cost onto local governments. The county has taken a $22 million hit, cutting department budgets 10-12 percent, and raising fees. "We've managed, so far, better than other (governments) because we rely on property taxes," Day said. "I'm beginning to worry about how much longer the county can hold the line."

The county's assessed valuation – its property tax base – declined by 5 percent last year. Valuations typically lag behind market conditions, so "we are looking at 12 percent next year, and that's huge," Day said. "That's millions of dollars in revenue."

The county is developing two budget proposals; one, in the event the Proposition 100 sales tax passes on May 18; the other, if it doesn't pass.

"If it doesn't, that will trigger a series of impacts to the county," Day said.

Large among those impacts is an expenditure to house more inmates in Pima County. If 100 is defeated, Pima County expects to become responsible for the housing of 1,800 additional adult inmates with one year or less of their sentences to serve. There are no existing facilities to house them.

"We don't have any empty beds, we can't build a jail fast enough," Day said. "The state is passing the buck to the county, and they force us to raise taxes in some way. Certainly, a tax increase is a possibility. I don't want to see it.

"From my perspective, this is such a deep recession that things will never look the same," Day said. Pima County is doing more with less, begging the question "why haven't we done all these things before now, when we had money?' There are better and more efficient ways to run government."

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