WHAT'S UP WITH THAT? - Two-toned road begs questions

What's up with that?

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After months (and months) of construction, Abbott Road just to the south of Murr Sports Park is finally open.

The sewer lines have been put underground for a new housing development and the road is now covered with new asphalt. Well, mostly.

The old westbound lane from the entrance of Murr Field to Fern Avenue was left as it was. It's now a one-lane, well-worn island surrounded by new, smooth, black asphalt.

What's up with that? Why wasn't the whole section of street redone as long as the construction crew was on the job?

Some who live in that area have speculated only half the road was repaved because the south side of Abbott is in the county while the north side is within the Walla Walla city limits.

Not so.

The entire roadway is within the city limits even though it borders sections of the county as Abbott heads east toward Sturm Avenue.

Dean Abrams, city of Walla Walla project engineer, said roadways aren't split down the middle. They are either the county's or the city's. In this case, Abbott Road is all city.

When a housing development is being put in it is the responsibility of the developer to pay for the utility work -- water and sewer -- and either build new roads or repair the old ones. In this case, since the construction was extensive, the private contractor hired by the developer -- A & B Asphalt of Benton City -- had to put in a lot of new road.

The few hundred feet running along the left-field fence at Murr was untouched because no pipes had to be placed underneath it. Ripping up the old road and putting in a new one was unnecessary and would have added to the cost of the project, which is something no developer wants.

Yet, the contractor did offer to do the work for $3,500 because A & B Asphalt could have saved a little money by not having to neatly match the new asphalt with the old.

The $3,500 seems to be a very reasonable -- if not a terrific -- price for a stretch of new street.

Why didn't the city jump at this offer?

Because the city is, well, a government. And government can't just write a check for road construction without going through a long and often complicated process.

Tom Purcell, the city's interim public works director, said he would have liked to accept the offer to redo the entire roadway. But, he said, state purchasing law requires a project of that scope to go out for bid and enter into a separate contract with the city.

Given the small size and fast time frame of this project, that wouldn't have been cost effective.

And getting the money to fund it wouldn't have been simple as this project wasn't in the original city budget. The Street Department doesn't have discretionary funds. So, to get city funding would have required jumping through hoops, which would have been time consuming.

Obtaining the funding, however, was possible, Purcell said, adding, "We could have put coin jars at convenience stores" and come up with it.

But trying to mix city money with private money creates new obstacles.

When city money is involved prevailing wages -- defined as the hourly wage, usual benefits and overtime, paid in the largest city in each county, to the majority of laborers -- have to be paid, which could have driven up the cost of the small road project beyond the $3,500. Insurance issues were also a barrier.

After looking at all sides of the offer, Purcell reluctantly decided to decline.

"The inability to move strategically like that is aggravating in public service," Purcell said. "We had to clench our teeth (and say no). It is frustrating but that's the law and we have to live with it."

Rick Eskil can be reached at rickeskil@wwub.com or 509-526-8309. If you, too, wonder what's up with that, let Eskil know about it and maybe he can find out.

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