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City to Express Disappointment about Undergrounding on Route 1

Here is the letter on the Rt. 1 undergrounding we’ll consider approving at tomorrow’s meeting. We’re truly disappointed that the undergrounding is not going to happen after spending $150,000 of our residents’ tax dollars
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Douglas H.Simmons
Acting Administrator State Highway Administrator
707 North Calvert Street Baltimore, Maryland 21202
Re: Reconstruction of US 1

Dear Mr. Simmons:

In a letter dated May 18, 2015 to Mayor Fellows, SHA explained that a letter of commitment from the City of College Park to fund the undergrounding of utilities was needed by June 8, 2015 in order to maintain the current project schedule. This request was made at the same time meetings were being held between SHA, Senator Rosapepe and Mayor Fellows in order to more fully understand the design elements of the project as well as issues surrounding construction funding and timing. In fact, the city is still engaged with SHA on these matters and looks forward to a presentation to the City Council on August 5, 2015.

The City is surprised and disappointed that we have been given this deadline without having the underground design completed and the opportunity to explore funding through the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) discretionary grant program. When the city executed the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with SHA last August, it was our expectation that aerial and underground plans would be designed concurrently and would be able to be compared side by side. Work on these plans by KCI Technologies did not begin until December 2014 and the only meeting to discuss these plans (30%) with the city was held on March 31, 2015 at city staff’s request. The City is in receipt of documentation showing that 33% of the work associated with the project was completed at the end of February even though invoices received and paid by the city through April total only $51,273 or 17% of the estimated cost of these services.

It is distressing to learn now that a decision on funding undergrounding utilities must be made before the design process is completed and in order to engage utility companies in the design process. This was certainly not the city’s understanding when the MOU was signed and there is nothing in the MOU language that would indicate this to be the case. Under the circumstances, however, the city must ask that SHA terminate the undergrounding design and incur no further financial obligations under the MOU.

It has always been the City’s goal to obtain the best possible outcome for this project, and we sincerely believe that placing the utilities underground would help to make the reconstruction of Route 1 an exceptional complete streets project that all stakeholders could be proud of. We will continue to work with your staff to ensure that this is a model project, even without undergrounding, that addresses the multi-modal needs of the community and enhances the sense of place along the corridor.

Sincerely,
Andrew M. Fellows
Mayor

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2 Comments to “City to Express Disappointment about Undergrounding on Route 1”

  1. By Matthew Byrd, June 8, 2015 @ 11:47 pm

    I’m not sorry that this project isn’t going forward. I think this was one of the most wasteful ideas I’ve ever seen this city pursue. I have never seen so much public funding proposed to accomplish so little actual benefit to the public. In a way, I’m glad we had our money tied up in other things, just to prevent this from happening.

    A lot of things could be accomplished with $15 million, things with a real impact for the benefit of residents, both now and into the future. When we do find ourselves able to bankroll a project this extravagant in the future, I hope the Council will exercise more sense in how they seek to use those funds.

  2. By Fazlul Kabir, June 9, 2015 @ 1:01 pm

    Matt, I agree, they City wouldn’t be able to support the undergrounding project, without the help of a major grant, such as the TIGER grant we were hoping the SHA would jointly apply with us. You’re right, the total cost ($15 million) is huge and is pretty close to our entire yearly budget.