Columbia City Council discusses capital projects, approves Stadium widening agreement

Tuesday, August 4, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA —The City Council approved a large project that could help to relieve some of the traffic on Stadium Boulevard between Broadway and Interstate 70.

On Monday, the council authorized an agreement with three Transportation Development Districts on Stadium Boulevard that would help finance an $18 million to $20 million project to widen the road to six lanes. MoDOT allotted $8.9 million for the project, which must be matched. To cover the rest, the city would have to use low interest loans from the state that would be repaid by the TDDs.

The council held a work session last week about the risk of depending on TDDs to repay loans when TDDs pay for road projects with their own sales taxes that are sensitive to economic conditions. If the TDD money comes in lower than expected, “if all heck broke loose and the mall closes,” as Bill Watkins, city manager, put it, the city could be on the hook for around $500,000 every six months.

“I think this is a reasonable risk, but I don’t want someone coming back seven years from now saying Watkins blew it,” Watkins said, explaining why he was making it so clear the risk the city would take on.

Council members indicated that they trusted the revenue projections and felt it was a reasonable risk for the city to take. But Watkins warned that even this would only be a temporary fix to the city’s traffic issues.

“Now, this is a band-aid, but if you want to really get traffic off Stadium, we need another interchange connected to Scott Boulevard,” Watkins said.

Monday was the first meeting since Watkins released his proposed fiscal year 2010 budget. The council went over a few of their own suggestions for large city project priorities highlighted in the Capital Improvement Plan, the topic of the first public hearing for the $403 million budget.

The CIP is a planning document for city projects over the next 10 years, and only the first year in the plan is fiscally constrained.

The Planning and Zoning Commission’s comments on the CIP suggested raising the priority of park improvements at the new high school location and Stephens Lake Park. But Finance Director Lori Fleming warned it would be difficult to move up park projects in the CIP because the eighth-cent park sales tax will expire in 2011.

Third Ward Karl Skala suggested moving a Ballenger Lane project higher in the priority list to coincide with ongoing work on Mexico Gravel Road.

Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade pointed to what he saw as dangerous intersections on Fairview Road at Ash Street and Chapel Hill Road and suggested safety improvements be added to the CIP.

Wade also pointed to the city’s stormwater funding structure and said that eventually the city is going to have to ask the public for help.

“I think the CIP clearly demonstrates the crisis in stormwater project funding,” he said.

Doug Lange, representing Stephens College, requested that the council add repairs to the Stephens College bridges in the Broadway-College Avenue intersection to the CIP. He said the $250,000 to $500,000 repairs would be necessary within five years, and that the college will finance them with or without the city’s help. But he said it could be a good opportunity for a public-private partnership, and that the city might have access to certain funds and grants that the college does not.

“We think it’s a shame to move forward without talking to the city to see what’s possible,” he said.

Wade subsequently made a motion to consider adding the project to the CIP.



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