Carson Street questions don’t mute despite updated conceptual design for project

Costs and other concerns were voiced the past week by people raising questions regarding the wisdom of city government’s downtown Carson Street plan.

The reactions came in the aftermath of the latest conceptual design for the main drag downtown, which would be narrowed from four lanes to three, lose the median, widen sidewalks, add bike lanes and do some underground utility work in a project estimated at about $9 million. The plan in some form has been discussed for a decade, but the recession’s swoon kept it on the back burner until now.

“The basic thing is I’m not quite sure of their numbers,” said Steve McIntyre, manager of the Arco am-pm mini-market and gas station at 720 S. Carson St., speaking of city government’s cost estimate. McIntyre’s business is just south of the project footprint. It runs from 5th Street on the south to William Street on the north, which runs past government buildings and the downtown commercial core.

McIntyre and Bob Lamkin of Bob’s Shell at 705 N. Carson St., another vocal opponent, said the plan will hurt more businesses than proponents realize. Lamkin also agreed with McIntyre’s concern the project’s final cost will balloon higher than the estimate.

“I do think that as with anything government has done,” said Lamkin, “it’s definitely going to cost them more than they said.”

McIntyre, meanwhile, while voicing concerns said he hopes whatever is done winds up helping the city rather than detracting from the quality of Carson City life.

Maurice White, retired government worker and a member of the city’s Airport Authority, specifically questioned whether the underground utility work — conceived as a $2.2 million add-on to the nearly $6.8 million streetscape change — can be done that cheaply. The underground utility storm water, sewer and water line upgrades are overdue and will be paid for from utility funds rather than capital improvement bonding money, city officials say.

White cited as a concern his view a project bid approved recently for water main work from Saliman Road to Roop Street under Mills Park costs a similar $2.2 million but deals with just one utility rather than several. He was asked if that meant the downtown work is going to cost more.

“I believe it is,” he said. “They haven’t been forthcoming, in my opinion.” Since saying that he has gotten updated information from the city but still doesn’t see it as fully forthcoming yet with more details and details pending.

Public Works Director Darren Schulz, meanwhile, countered the two projects White mentioned aren’t similar. For one thing, he said, the size differential comes into play with Carson Street’s footprint more manageable.

“It’s definitely shorter,” he said.

Another difference, he said, is the Mills Park project includes the cost of tearing up and reconstituting Saliman Road and other places while the Carson Street above-ground changes are separate from the underground part of the project and are funded from the other side of the equation there.

“On Carson Street,” he said of costs, “that’s part of the streetscape.”

White’s contention, however, was details of both costs and specifics were still hazy for the general public and more underground utilities’ work was going under Carson Street than Mills Park.

“They need to tell us precisely what they are doing,” he said. “We need to have this underground project fully delineated to know what the cost is going to be.”

Ande Engleman said her main concern in that regard, as chairperson of the city’s Utility Finance Oversight Committee, had been the money isn’t coming from the amount set aside for sewage treatment plant and related upgrades after recently-enacted higher rates in Carson City. She said she determined that money won’t be the source.

Even some who are upbeat about the project have questions, among them downtown businessman Jed Block. Block, chairman of the city’s Historic Resources Commission, was for the latest conceptual design. He said he likes it better than previous designs. He said he wants vehicular traffic calming, something proponents push as a strength of the design to promote foot traffic.

But Block questioned moves to form a downtown business district for maintenance or improvements related to but not covered by project costs.

“The one thing I don’t want to see is a BID at this point in time,” he said, using the acronym for business improvement districts. He said costs in such a district would be atop redevelopment district revenues that already come from businesses. “I think redevelopment money should be seed money for events,” he said, giving one example regarding what might now be included in a BID cost structure.

Lamkin made similar points. He said after hiking the city sales tax on consumers one-eighth of a penny in Carson City, local government is moving toward forming a downtown BID to up the ante,

“Then they want everyone (in the business community) to pay for trash cans and benches and everything else,” he said.

Assemblyman Pete Livermore, a city supervisor when the downtown project was conceived years ago, wasn’t negative but raised several concerns. He characterized himself as no longer in the loop on sufficient information to be part of the full conversation on costs.

Though the 2006 version of a downtown facelift plan was pegged at $12 million, Livermore said, this latest plan is different plan so added he couldn’t speak to the question of why this one is only about three-fourths that amount nearly a decade later. He did express concerns over other matters, among them parking needs, the historic west side and slowing down cars or trucks as they pass through town.

“They haven’t solved the parking problem, I don’t believe,” he said. He wasn’t sure the plan helps the historic west side and its blue line area, where heritage is part of the community’s charm, nor was he enthusiastic about losing the Carson Street median and plantings.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions,” Livermore asserted. And, as have others in past project discussions, he still enjoys driving ease through the downtown.

“I kind of like that,” he said.


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