June 22--City Engineer Loren Culp gave the Ridgecrest City Council an optimistic report on the Downs Street Project at council's meeting Wednesday. The much-anticipated, long-delayed project includes widening and repaving the street near Ridgecrest Charter School.
The big news, according to Culp, is that federal funding is now available for the project for both sides of the street. He said he was encouraged by a recent meeting with Caltrans District 9. He said District 9 is being helpful and cooperative and he has hopes the project will move forward quickly and smoothly.
Culp said he was unprepared to discuss exact budgetary figures yet, but when the project is complete the barricades down the center of Downs Street will be gone, curbs and gutters will be complete, and the poles will be moved.
The project is essentially divided into parts, with the east and west sides of Downs Street being undertaken separately. According to Culp, the portion involving the west side of Downs Street may be out to bid as soon as next spring.
"We are relying on acquisition of easements on the west side. Depending on the timing for being able to acquire those we would be able to have Southern California Edison relocate the poles, and we would be able to go out to bid and be under construction after the poles have been relocated. In terms of timing, there is a very real possibility that could be the spring of next year," he said. "So things are starting to come together here very quickly."
Culp did not have a similar estimate for the west side of the street. He said the timetable is dependent upon the city's ability to acquire what he described as "minor" easements.
The project has been in the works for a long time. Delays have been caused by legal disputes between the city and Southern California Edison over power pole relocation.
Referring to the legal battle, Dave Matthews asked if it turned out SCE was actually on their own property all along.
"The judge that has reviewed the case seems to think so. Staff doesn't however," Culp replied. He also noted that the city entered into legal action against SCE because they believed at the time they had a strong case and the superior rights.
The federal funding changes things however.
"We thought, at the time, we had a very strong case for the relocation of the poles," he said. "We felt it was SCE's responsibility for relocating the poles as well as acquiring the easements. ... Now with the funding requirements that the federal government has ... we know that its now our responsibility. We are going through the formal process of acquiring these easements on both sides," he said.
Culp said he will next be coming before council to ask for a contract amendments, acquisition services, some design elements, as well as the cost for acquiring easements.
"My feeling is that if we are going to pay them for right-of-way, then when they develop they should put in their own curbs, gutters and sidewalks," Mayor Pro Tem Michael Mower said about SCE.
City Manager Ron Strand asked if the receipt of federal funding will free up TAB funding for other uses. Culp did not have an answer yet.
In response to a question from Stan Rajtora, Culp said that Measure L funds will still be used for matching funds on the project.
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