On Tuesday, the Cortez City Council approved a construction bid for the controversial Main Street median project, scheduled to be completed this summer.
After swearing in two re-elected and three new council members, the council discussed the median project, which will install medians, a pedestrian refuge and sidewalk ramps on Main Street. Several Cortez residents and council members voiced concerns about the project, but the council ultimately awarded the job to the low bidder, Western Gravel Constructors LLC, for $1.07 million.
The city has been planning since 2015 to install medians on about four blocks of Main Street as part of a long-term access control plan designed to make the corridor safer and more aesthetically pleasing. The medians will be 20 inches tall, 6 feet wide and located in the center of Main Street from Ash Street to Elm Street.
The city also plans to build a median and crosswalk at North Edith Street near McDonald’s, with flashing signal lights to control traffic.
Other aspects of the project include replacing sidewalk ramps in the central business district and improving the pavement on some nearby alleys.
The project was scheduled to begin in fall 2017 but was delayed when no construction company submitted a bid. Public Works Director Phil Johnson brought bids from Dave and Lana Waters Inc. and Western Gravel before the council on Tuesday.
Both bids were over the city’s budget of $975,000 for the project, but Johnson said a $200,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs and a $294,000 pledge from the Colorado Department of Transportation to replace the sidewalk ramps would more than make up the difference.
During a workshop before the meeting, new council member Sue Betts said she liked the idea of improving the accessibility of sidewalk ramps, but opposed the rest of the project.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people on the street,” she said. “None of them want those medians.”
Betts said she worried that the medians would cause accidents by narrowing the lanes on Main Street and restricting traffic. Although Johnson said in July that the medians would result in slightly narrowed inner lanes, on Tuesday he said they would not affect lane widths or parking.
Betts wasn’t alone in her concerns. Eight people spoke during the public comment period before the council voted on the bid, and only one, Montezuma County Democrats co-chair Alan Klein, was in favor of the project.
“I think the end result’s going to be a more beautified downtown area,” he said. “I compliment the city for its foresight and vision.”
The other speakers asked the council to delay its decision on the bid award, bringing up worries about how the medians would affect emergency vehicles and commuter traffic and how the city would pay for maintenance. Some asked why the city chose Western Gravel, a year-old company from Montrose, instead of a local contractor.
Pepper Noyes, wife of newly elected councilman Gary Noyes, demanded data showing that medians would make downtown Cortez safer. She and other speakers also claimed that the city has not done enough to involve the public in the decision to install medians.
Some council members responded to the complaints by pointing to the numerous public meetings the city has held on the median project, starting with the community input sessions that made up much of Heart and Soul’s long-term planning project in 2012. They also invited the audience to attend another informational meeting Thursday at 6 p.m. in City Hall.
“This isn’t something that was done in the dark of night in a closet someplace,” Mayor Karen Sheek said. “We’ve tried to be very transparent.”
Tiffani Randall, owner of the Main Street business Love on a Hanger, said she had attended numerous public meetings about the medians and recognized the city’s attempts to inform the public. But she said she was disappointed to learn that construction had been scheduled for peak tourist season.
“We were promised this wouldn’t happen in the heightened season,” she said. “Well, here we are. It’s happening.”
Johnson said one lane of traffic would remain open in both directions throughout construction. The project is scheduled to be completed by Sept. 28.
After about 45 minutes of occasionally heated discussion between the council and audience members, councilman Noyes made a motion to table the bid award. His motion was supported by Betts and councilman Orly Lucero, who said he had become concerned about the project’s cost. The motion failed in a 4-3 vote.
The bid award was approved in another 4-3 vote, with Sheek, Jill Carlson, Ty Keel and Michael Lavey voting for passage, and Noyes, Betts and Lucero voting against.
Design plans, maps and other information about the median project can be found on the home page of www.cityofcortez.com under the “Your Community” tab.