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Business Owners Blast Richmond For Bungled Road Work, Overruns 
April 23, 1996



Tuesday, April 23, 1996
Section: news
Page: A03

RICHMOND A misplaced trench and sinking roadway will delay completion of improvements to Canal and Cutting boulevards, prompting business owners and politicians to question the city's oversight of the multimillion dollar project.

City officials are still trying to determine how much it will cost to move a utility trench and repave a 250-foot section of Canal Boulevard where newly laid asphalt is unraveling and sinking.

Preliminary figures put the cost at nearly $200,000, with construction delays of about six months. The project was scheduled to be completed by September but could take well into 1997.

"When I went out there it looked like the road was 50 years old," said City Councilwoman Donna Powers. "I had to ask where the new road was."

The latest problems to plague the roadwork are particularly troubling to business owners who fought the city's successful effort to tax them for the $5.4 million project.

"It wasn't right for them to force this project down our throats, and now stuff like this happens," said Mike DeSimoni of Channel Lumber. "You can only sit back and laugh."

The City Council approved a tax on area businesses in 1990 to pay for the so-called "gateway" to Point Richmond. Business owners launched an unsuccessful legal battle to avoid being forced into the assessment district.

The cost overruns and construction delays have led one businessman to examine whether the city is appropriately using money businesses contributed for the project.

Rich Robbins, a Point Richmond developer, has asked the city to release documents relating to cost overruns for the project, according to a letter sent to the city last week.

"I think it's a legitimate question for businesses to be asking: Who's going to be paying for this?" Powers said.

Robbins did not return phone calls Monday.

City engineers told a City Council subcommittee earlier this month that faulty design work contributed at least in part to the latest problems. Powers, a member of the economic development committee, said she was told soils testing could have prevented Canal Boulevard from sinking.

"We spend $500,000 on design work and then we find out it's not even worth the paper it's written on," Powers said.

At the April 12 meeting, assistant Public Works Director Kirt Hunter said the project's "design obviously left much to be desired" and should have been more closely scrutinized by city staff.

But Deputy City Manager Henry Tingle, who heads the public works department, refused Monday to cast blame solely on the design firm, Reimer Associates.

"This is one of those jobs where it's hard to put the blame on any one source," Tingle said.

Councilman Tom Butt, chairman of the development committee, wants the city to move beyond casting blame and simply find out what went wrong with the project. City officials are scheduled to present their findings at a committee meeting next month.

"This project has been plagued with problems and we need to resolve them to prevent them from happening again," Butt said.