Stimulus funds aid sidewalks

Economic stimulus funds are being used to repair sidewalks on the residential side of Hersey Street between Oak and Ann streets. Funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act have been administered through the Oregon Department of Transportation to the city for the project. The repairs are not a city project.

Improvements will include Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance repairs and walkway widening in designated areas to preserve existing mature trees. Storm surge drains and installation of protective tree grates are also being installed.

The improvements were previously planned by the city, but due to economic constraints, the project was shelved in favor of more pressing issues, project manager Morgan Wayman said.

"The project was planned and budgeted," Wayman said, "but when the economic situation hit, we had to reorganize our priorities.

Wayman believes previous planning was a key factor in obtaining the highly competitive funds from ODOT. When the money was made available, everybody "scrambled to get it." In effect, the Hersey Street project was "shovel ready."

"I don't want to say we were lucky, but we had our ducks in a row," Wayman said. "We had the right project for the amount of money available."

With $200,000 in available federal funding, Copeland Construction of Eagle Point was the low bidder at $140,000, resulting in a surplus of $60,000. The remaining money was then funneled into the storm drain repairs on the same site, a separate project that was also previously planned.

"Although it was a separate project, it was in the same construction zone," Wayman said. "We put the two projects together, rather than lose the money to the government pot. It was best to only disturb the site once, and money was saved."

The project is being monitored by OBEC Consulting Engineers of Medford, inspecting the work and reporting to ODOT. It is a demanding process due to the newness of this type of funding. Although grants have been frequently worked with in the past, this is the first time stimulus money is being used.

"They are tracking this money to verify it is spent properly," Wayman said. "A high accountability factor is being implemented, and we think it is going really well."

Along with the inspectors, Wayman walks the construction site three times a day. All three entities involved are working with ODOT to make sure "everything is in concert."

On site, between Phelps Court and Carol Street, Jimmy Copeland of Copeland Construction believes the project is going exceptionally well. With few traffic and safety problems, the only major issue thus far has been the loss of some parking spaces, he said.

At present, many sections of the walk are removed with some still in place. The existing visible portions would remain, while sections with trees will extend an additional five to eight feet into the street, Copeland said. Roots breaking through the walkways have caused safety issues, and the repairs will "not only make it look nice, but safe," Copeland said.

Another slated safety repair will be replacing the wheelchair accesses on each of the street corners. The grade of the ramps is currently too steep for ADA specifications, Copeland said.

According to — the official Web site of the Recovery Board, which oversees the ARRA program — the two main goals of the act are to create and save jobs while reinvesting in community areas such as: infrastructure, education and health care. Copeland said five new jobs were created as a result of this project, and it kept the rest of his employees working during difficult times in the construction industry.

Copeland also said neighborhood reaction to the construction has been favorable.

"The neighbors are excited that it is going to look nice," he said. "This job has been a pleasure to work on so far."

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