Friday, April 20, 2012

Build First, Plan Later

I started the week on an optimistic note, pointing out how the Richardson City Council held a couple of secret executive sessions to discuss economic development in the Main Street/US 75 area. My hopes for a renaissance in the old downtown were raised.

Later in the week, my optimism waned as I daydreamed about a missed opportunity to exploit the Floyd Branch of Cottonwood Creek as it runs through old downtown Richardson. You didn't know about old downtown's natural creek? Neither did I. Apparently, no one at city hall gives it any value at all. They want to bury it. That's the missed opportunity.

Now, I end the week in a black mood, as I (finally) get around to reading the city staff presentation to the city council on the planned study for redevelopment of the Main Street/Central Expressway Corridor.

After the jump, build first, plan later.

The title page of the February 13, 2012, presentation is promising: "Main Street/Central Expressway Corridor: Overview of Existing Conditions; Commencement of Study." The schedule calls for conducting the study from June, 2012, to February, 2013, then hold public hearings and adopt new ordinances from September to December, 2013.

One to two years all told for this study. OK, it's a big undertaking. One to two years is probably realistic. Imagine my surprise when I found this deep in the presentation: "Bid award Spring 2012" and "Under construction Summer 2012." What is this all about? The public hearings won't be held until September, 2013. How can they be starting construction in the area already this summer? The details are in the presentation (pages 47-52):

  • Floyd Branch Storm Drain Improvements -- Phase 1
    • Replace/Upgrade series of large concrete culverts through the bank tract at northeast corner of Main/Central, extending south through the Polk/Sherman area to Kaufman Street
    • Reconstruct Phillips Street bridge over Floyd Branch
    • Construct new right-turn lane, westbound Main Street from Interurban to northbound Central Expressway frontage road
    • Replace signals at Main/Central and Main/Interurban

I would have thought that burying the biggest natural feature in the study area, Floyd Branch, might have been put off until after the study had time to consider whether there are other, higher uses of this feature. Apparently not. And how about the city's plan to *add* lanes to Main Street when what they really should be doing is *removing* lanes.

Shouldn't someone on the city council be slamming on the brakes and asking if "build first, plan later" is the right order for project management? I haven't reviewed the video for this part of the presentation to the city council (my bad), but my guess is that it never occurred to anyone to question why we're spending $6.5 million on infrastructure "improvements" before we've even studied the area and agreed on a long-term vision for what we want that area to become.

I hope that whoever conducts the study will come up with a better idea for the Floyd Branch than burying it under concrete. But that's probably not going to happen. The study's consultants will be selected by the city council. The city council has too often acted as if their jobs are to play leasing agent for the strip shopping center landlords instead of offering a vision for the city's future. That's why they spend their time approving projects like a self-service warehouse on Arapaho Rd down the street from City Hall and a QuikTrip gas station down the street from old downtown Main Street. You can't lease the Floyd Branch, so you might as well bury it. Is that the thinking? Well, if you feature the Floyd Branch instead of bury it, you might find the properties along the Floyd Branch suddenly become more valuable -- and leasable.

So, I end the week in a pessimistic mood. Someone please tell me I'm seeing this all wrong and it's going to turn out alright after all. It's getting dark down here in the Floyd Branch culvert. The concrete lid is getting closer.

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