VIDEO: Facts and Fantasies About the Bridge to Nowhere, Part Four

Read Part One

Here in Pagosa Springs — and in most rural towns, I imagine — we elect people to public office, not necessarily because they have any experience whatsoever running a government, but because they seem trustworthy and sensible. Or rather, because they seem more trustworthy and sensible than the other candidate.

So, when a group of slick developers approaches a government board, making glowing promises about economic impacts, job growth, business expansion, and increases in sales taxes, they are often talking to a group of people with very little experience judging the truth of those assertions. The developers are also talking to elected leaders who sometimes don’t fully understand the laws that government boards are required to abide by.

It’s what they call ‘a learning curve.’ As government officials grow in knowledge and skill, they either become more adept at working hand-in-hand with the taxpayers — or. alternately, they grow better at avoiding public scrutiny and at serving special interests.

I’ve been watching our current Town Council slowly — ever so slowly — getting better at working hand-in-hand with the taxpaying public. It’s a learning curve, like I said.

Part of that learning took place at the March 17 public meeting at the Ross Aragon Community Center about the proposed South 5th Street Bridge, better known in certain circles as the Bridge to Nowhere.

Today’s video clip is focused on a moment during the three-hour meeting, when Mayor Don Volger was reading aloud a series of statements projected on the wall of the South Conference Room. These statements, titled “Assertions Not in Support of the Project,” summarized 17 criticisms about the proposed Bridge project that have been expressed at previous Council meetings, in letters to the Town staff, and in articles and letters in the local media.

A sample slide:

235thStBridgeOpposed

I’ve never seen a government board, here in Archuleta County, present a list like this — where comments in opposition to a proposed government project were publicly acknowledged and included in the government’s own Powerpoint presentation. So my hat is definitely off to the Town of Pagosa Springs for presenting these slides at last week’s meeting. (You can download the entire Powerpoint presentation here.) The critical comments — 17 of them — took up 6 slides out of the 37 slides presented.

Here’s a video excerpt from that presentation. Mayor Don Volger is reciting the “Assertions” — about the proposal itself, and about the way the proposal has been handled thus far.

At the end of the video clip, we hear a couple of women in the audience ask the Mayor if we could possibly hear some authentic responses to these numerous assertions. The Mayor then defers to Town Manager Greg Schulte, and Mr. Schulte promises us that, indeed, the objections will be addressed.  But… not right now…

Audience member: “So, could you address those? If those are questions that have been asserted before, and we have them tonight, can you answer those questions? Those are all really good questions. I would love to hear your answers.”

Mayor Volger: “Go ahead, Greg. I’ll let you comment.”

Greg Schulte: “I was just going to say… Can we get through the rest of the presentation? You guys are going to have that…”

Another audience member: “Don’t avoid the question.”

Mr. Schulte: “We’re not going to.”

Audience member: “Well, you’re doing that right now.”

Mr Schulte only smiled.

The meeting continued for nearly two more hours, but no one from the Town government made an attempt to address the 17 objections that the Town has been hearing from the community about this controversial project… assertions that the Mayor told us were being weighed, as part of the decision-making process.

Based on ten years of writing about Town and County government, I think I can address at least a couple of the “Assertions” that were duly noted, but not yet answered, by the Town government.

235thStBridgeOpposed

Traffic flow problems in downtown Pagosa?

There are no four-lane roads anywhere in Archuleta County, except on certain sections of CDOT-controlled Highway 160. 85 percent of the population lives uptown, and they drive two-lane roads with no traffic issues. 85 percent of the retail shopping happens uptown, and 90 percent of the motel rooms, vacation rentals and timeshares are uptown. Despite this uneven population distribution, none of our two-lane uptown roads exhibit traffic flow problems… except at signalized intersections controlled by CDOT.

Traffic jams occur in two situations:

1. Too many people using a road at the exact same hour of the day (usually, to get to work), or

2. Badly timed CDOT signal lights.

We saw massive traffic jams leading all the way up Putt Hill last year, after the installation of a badly timed signal light at South 8th Street combined with parents dropping their kids at the Elementary School all at the same exact time.

Nowhere else on Highway 160 did we see any sign of traffic flow issues.

We currently see traffic flow problems at the Hot Springs Boulevard stoplight — not because of too many cars, but because of horrible timing at the CDOT signal light. There is no other possible reason for a traffic flow problem that lasts all day long.

Even if more properties are developed along Hot Springs Boulevard, there’s nothing planned could cause a massive influx of traffic onto Hot Springs Boulevard at exactly the same moment — except for maybe the Fourth of July Fireworks at the high school. (That’s a somewhat temporary problem.)

Simply stated, a taxpayer-funded 5th Street Bridge cannot be reasonably justified by claims of “future traffic flow problems” unless you believe the population of downtown will increase to more than 10 times its current size.

Is the 5th Street Bridge unfair to other developers in the community? Most certainly.

As far as I know, no subdivision in Archuleta County has ever been subsidized by Town taxpayers since I arrived in 1993. In fact, developers have been consistently made to jump through hoop after hoop, by our Town government, and have been consistently required to build all their access lanes and roadways with their own money.

Building a $7 million bridge with taxpayer revenues, that directly accesses only one vacant property?

Unheard of. Totally unfair.

Now, let’s talk about “sweetheart deals” in the past…

Read Part Five…

Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 in hopes of making a decent living writing about local politics. The hope remains.