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Flaw found in roads plan
Rural roads budget won't do work that was promised
by Kim Fickett
Landmark reporter

The new Platte County Commission has discovered a major flaw in the roads master plan. Now staff is scrambling for a solution.

After engineering costs came in over budget by nearly double for the Jones-Myer/Fox Roads, the commission has now learned that two other project packages also exceeded budget.

According to Director of Planning and Zoning Aaron Schmidt, the Jones-Myer/Fox Roads package was a projected cost of $2 million. Instead the total cost for both roads is now estimated at around $4 million.

Jones-Myer Road, which is currently under construction, must move forward with the engineer's design despite the county being over budget.

“The county will not, cannot, build an unsafe road,” said Public Works Director Dale Thomas. “At a minimum, you must meet width and drainage requirements. I won’t sign off on a road that doesn’t meet those requirements.”

The other road packages, which are currently under design, may need to see some revisions made to their design to accommodate the county’s budget.

Baker, Farley-Hampton, and Hillsboro Roads were a budgeted cost of $1.6 million. The engineering estimates now set a total cost of $4 million for the projects.

Humphrey’s Road was budgeted at $2.3 million. Now engineer’s estimates have increased that project’s cost to $4 million. All the projects currently in design are located west of I-435 between Parkville and Platte City.

Sixteen roads in the unincorporated portion of Platte County are listed as a part of the roads master plan.

“The original cost estimates shown in the Roads Master Plan are not detail oriented and do not take a comprehensive look at each project specifically,” said Schmidt. “The estimates are essentially planning level costs.”

Schmidt said transportation projects typically begin with “planning level” costs that increase in accuracy as they progress from conceptual stages to engineering and construction. These figures are typically the first and roughest numbers in the life of a project and, in this case, only factored a portion of the needed improvements.

“Improvement costs in the Roads Master Plan were developed on a ‘cost per linear foot’ basis,” said Thomas. “This method did not account for additional expenses involving general safety improvements such as road widening, drainage improvements or other unexpected costs that can arise.”

According to Schmidt, the roads master plan, which was adopted in 2002, was formulated by several entities.

“The roads master plan was done by a county-hired consultant firm called HNTB, county staff-comprised of myself and Dale (Thomas), county commissioners who were primarily led by former 2nd District Commissioner Steve Wegner, and a committee appointed by the former commission comprised of county residents,” said Schmidt.

Schmidt said formulating the roads master plan and estimating rural road project costs was a collaborative effort.

“I think it was a group effort. I think it was a combination of staff, the consulting engineer and the county commission,” said Schmidt.

According to Thomas, he was not a part of determining the roads budgets.

“I formulated the budgets for the bridges and I will take responsibility for that,” stated Thomas. “I worked with them on the bridge budgets but not the roads budgets.”

Schmidt says he is not going to play the blame game.

“I’m not going to point any fingers at anybody,” stated Schmidt.

The commission is now at the point of determining in what direction to head with the funds they have available.

“I don’t feel like we can go back and restructure the roads program because it’s not fair to the people who voted on it-even though it is flawed,” said 2nd District Commissioner Jim Plunkett.

“We’re finding out they can’t do the work to the safety standards for the allotted engineering costs. During the design stage, the engineers are coming back and saying you need to do this, this and this. The problem is no one physically went out and looked at the roads and seen what physically needed to be done. Such as if a hill needed to be taken out or if a road needed to be straightened.”

Based on budget constraints, the county commission has embarked on a public involvement process to determine how to best spend what money is actually available. County officials plan to host public forums this spring to discuss other road improvements on Humphrey’s, Elm Grove and Sharps Station Roads.

“The reality now is that we need to move forward with what money we have been allotted,” said Plunkett. “With the funds we do have, we can still bring about some considerable improvements to the unincorporated area. We’re looking for the public to guide us in selecting their priorities.”

For Plunkett, it’s disturbing that the citizens of Platte County were mislead.

“It’s like they were misled by the information they were given. Prior to the election, the residents were given flyers identifying the road, what improvements were going to be made and the dollar amount to be allocated to the project,” said Plunkett. “The problem is the dollar amount won’t do the work we promised.”

The budget discrepancy is especially a concern for First District Commissioner Tom Pryor, because the projects currently affected are located in his unincorporated portion of the county.

“Anyone that has concerns should be allowed to address them directly to us and we will answer any and all questions,” said Pryor. “I can assure them, though, that the transportation improvements that come about will make a significant impact on drivers in the rural area.”




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