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Madison puts brakes on road resurfacing project

Paul Snyder
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An estimated $3.5 million project by the city of Madison to resurface Monroe Street will be pushed back at least one year in an effort to reduce stress on drivers.

Deputy City Engineer Rob Phillips said with the second phase of reconstruction work on University Avenue scheduled for 2010, traffic flows through downtown and the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus would be adversely affected by simultaneous work on Monroe Street.

“We’ll look at 2011 or 2012 instead,” he said of the Monroe Street project.

But with the city already trying to trim or postpone projects that would require borrowing money, an even longer delay is possible, said Rachel Strauch-Nelson, spokeswoman for Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz.

City staff is trying to trim 2009 debt service as it prepares its 2010 budget and several big-ticket items can be found in the city’s engineering department. Strauch-Nelson said the city can incur less debt if it pushes projects back a year or two.

“We’d also hope that the economy will be a bit stronger by that point,” she said.

Madison, like other Wisconsin cities, is trying to restructure its budget based on an impending decrease in state aid. Although Gov. Jim Doyle originally proposed more than $8 million in cuts to shared-revenue programs throughout the state, the Joint Committee on Finance slashed that figure by another $21.4 million for a total of $29.9 million in cuts to county and municipal governments.

Strauch-Nelson said it is too soon to determine what precise effects the cuts will have on the city’s 2011 budget, but it could mean project delays.

Although some city street projects are getting an immediate benefit from federal stimulus money, prolonging municipal work weighs heavily on contractors.

Jeffrey Parisi, president of Verona-based Parisi Construction Co. Inc., said many road builders also work on commercial and subdivision projects, and with both those markets struggling, the competition for street work is more intense.

“I don’t know that stimulus money evens out other project delays,” he said. “I understand the budget issues that are out there, but if you’re pushing back transportation work, it just creates a tougher situation.”

Phillips said even if budget problems delay the Monroe Street job longer than expected, it should not mean an indefinite wait.

“I still believe the projects that need to be done will be done,” he said. “And that’s a project that needs to be done.”

Monroe Street is showing severe surface deterioration, Phillips said, and city crews also need to upgrade the storm-water, sanitary and sewer lines beneath the pavement.

However, aside from a preliminary estimate, little survey work has been done for the project and Phillips said the city has not yet directed money toward the job.

Alderwoman Julia Kerr, who represents the Monroe Street area, said she has no reason to believe the project would be pushed back more than two years, although the delay could give local businesses time to prepare for the slowdown that comes with construction.

“I think, in general, people have a heightened concern about the economy right now,” she said. “We have to balance the need to resurface the street in a manner that has the least negative economic impact on merchants.”

But Parisi pointed out the other side to such an argument: “If you’re trying to attract new property owners or tenants to the area, delaying the project makes it that much harder.”

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