Sunday, November 1, 2015

Nightmare on Eighth Street

This spring, the city started some long overdue street repairs in Midtown, on the 300, 400 and 500 blocks of Eighth  Street, and the 300 block on Ninth Street - replacing old water and sewer lines, repaving, and putting in new curbs and sidewalks.  The work started in May, in the 300 block of Eighth, tearing up half the street to repair a water main break.  Then the next two blocks were torn up.  Then, for some inexplicable reason, reconstruction work continued on the 400 and 500 blocks, without finishing the 300 block.  Then the equipment moved to Ninth Street, leaving the 300 block torn up.  And it remained that way all summer.

The residents at first were pleased that any work was being done, although many mourn the inevitable loss of mature boulevard trees that results from such extensive work.  But they understand that outdated pipes that break far too often need to be replaced, and getting new curbs and sidewalks is great.  But as the summer wore on, with no sign of the work being completed, people started to get a bit concerned - no one dreamed when the work started in May that the street would still be torn up in September.  And they received no information from the city as to when they could expect this work to be done, or reasons as to why the other blocks were finished, and theirs was not.  Just think, six months of dealing with difficult access to your home, no place for visitors to park, and no street lights.  And nobody telling you what's going on.

When I got back from holidays in mid-October, the phone calls started.  Some residents had called City Hall for an explanation, and were told that crews were really busy.  That's not an explanation; it's not even a good excuse.  So I read out loud one of the emails that I received from a resident at the next council meeting, and asked that administration inform all the residents on the block what was going on.

The city manager sent residents a letter, claiming that the delays were caused by the work that had to be done on the Big Dig.  Now, I realize the temptation to use that as an excuse, except that the city contracted out that work - it hasn't been city crews on that particular project.  When I was told by a resident that this was the excuse given, I was quite annoyed.  Then when I saw city crews working on paving a parking lot behind SIAST, rather than working on a residential street that has been impassable for six months, I shared my annoyance with the city manager.

That Saturday, crews were back on Eighth Street, but they haven't been back since.  Nor has there been further communication from City Hall.

To me, this sends several unfortunate messages to the residents.  The first is that our highly paid professionals are lacking in project management skills.  This apparent lack means that they don't appear to be able to plot out a work schedule that will result in a project getting done quickly, efficiently, and with the least disruption to the tax payers who live in the area.  Even though unexpected things are bound to happen, good project management will ensure that things get back on track as quickly as possible, so that the original objective is met.  It also means that new projects are not started until you are certain that you can finish the current project.  Multi-tasking is not something that should be done with these sorts of projects.

The second message is that communication is not a priority of administration.  Residents should not have to pester City Hall to find out the timeline of a project, or the reasons (or excuses) for why targets aren't met.  We could save ourselves all sorts of trouble if we just kept the people most affected informed ahead of time.

The final, and least fortunate message, is that residents in this part of the city don't matter to the people in charge at City Hall.  For whatever reason, their needs are secondary to getting a parking lot paved, and whatever other projects are considered more important than the provision of a safe, well-lit street, and the timely completion of a project.

As more than one resident has reminded me - these people pay taxes, and have a right to be provided the same level of service as other tax payers.  And, sadly, I don't have a good answer  for them, because I'm not getting straight answers either.

"Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable." - Dwight Eisenhower

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