11-28-13 CCN Letters to the Editor

City Councilor responds to letter on bridge debate

 To the editor:

As the Council member referred to in city councilor Steve Washburn’s letter to the editor on Nov. 21, I’m compelled to respond to some misinformation, and his comment about my second river crossing vote in 2012. I respect his opinions, but vehemently disagree.

His editorial to close the bridge states (14 times) that $400,000 is too much for Watertown’s tax payers to keep it open during construction, and lists projects in town that would be money better spent. The fact is, Watertown tax payer’s share is $100,000. The other $300,000 would be paid by the County. He claims, as a taxpayer of Carver County, that we pay that as well. But the truth is, Carver County gets most of their funds from fuel tax and registration fees for road projects. Watertown residents pay fuel tax with every gallon pumped. The $400,000 he says will be saved and used in Watertown will just benefit another project in a different community. It’s not money to “Get a Dairy Queen built here” as he suggested.

Washburn wrote: “I don’t think the community will support a large tax increase, If I am wrong and a large tax increase would be supported, then I would consider spending the $400,000.” However, his crusade to build the second river crossing would increase our taxes by $14.2 million dollars using his math (when you include the county portion), plus $5 million to replace the downtown bridge.

The truth is, the actual tax impact to keep the bridge open is less than $40 on a home valued at $150,000. Spread over 20 years, it becomes less than $3 per year for 20 years.

In regards to the second river crossing option, Mr. Washburn wrote, “I find it ironic that the same Council members that are advocating we spend $400,000 were the same ones that told us it wasn’t going to be a big deal to not have a second bridge.” That’s a reference to me, and that I voted in the majority not to build the beltway 1.5 years ago and not map it at that time.

I never expressed that, and no one on the Council felt that way. It was a difficult decision that weighed heavily due to the negative impact on everyone for those three months that the bridge would be closed. I absolutely wanted a second crossing during the bridge closure. However, the majority of Councilors felt the bypass would be used only during construction, and projected little use from Watertown residents thereafter.

Mr. Washburn said at the Oct. 22 council meeting that he couldn’t support spending $400,000 to keep the bridge open, when the city could have built the second crossing for $800,000, which was his primary reason given. Also,  very misinformed.

The Southern Beltway, as referred to by County studies, was a two phase, $14.2 million project connecting CSAH 24 at Oak Lake to CSAH 122, south of Watertown’s population, with the city share being $4.1 million. Washburn must be trying to quote just Phase 1, which included the bridge, but totaled $7 million (City share = $1.8 million).  Quoting only Phase 1 of a two-phase project is the same as only quoting the first two weeks of the phone bill. Mr. Washburn would tell you $14.2 million is what Watertown citizens will pay because we are Carver County residents.  Also, the failing downtown bridge would be replaced even if we built the second crossing. So, my constituents would need to fund two bridges: two projects equaling about $19.5 million when completed. That’s over 17 times our annual budget. Ouch! What is truly ironic is adding the County’s costs as ours only when trying to convince everyone to close the bridge during construction, but deducting County costs when promoting the beltway.

Mr. Washburn should also know this: The beltway directly affects 27 properties, including several total takes. It runs a County highway through River Point Park and many of my constituent’s back yards.

His contention that a 5-mile strip of County road around our town would draw massive growth here lacks sense to me. The beltway or bypass would not connect to any major highways. It merely connects two remote, rural county roads around our City, both far from population centers and 5 miles to the nearest highway. Watertown tax payers would foot a massive bill for outer County people to drive around our downtown. How many people would actually move here because we built a beltway from Oak Lake to Hollywood Township? Especially with the heart-stopping property taxes in Watertown in order to build two bridges.

My company is based in Long Lake. Many businesses there have failed or turned over (went bankrupt and re-opened under new name or owner) since directing traffic away from their downtown. Speaking with the City Clerk there about how their recent bypass has affected businesses, she stated, “Most of the businesses that provide retail goods and services were affected severely.” The list of failed companies she mentioned is extensive. So, while downtown businesses would have enjoyed the second bridge during construction like everyone, there is a bigger picture to be considered when the bypass is completed.

Nonsensical planning numbers also contributed to the idea that a second crossing was needed in the first place. Planning is done from population forecasts in Watertown’s 30-year comprehensive plan and Met Council forecasts. The plan calls for 7,700-9,000 people by 2030. An increase of 4,750 people in the next 16 years?

For comparison, we’ve added less than 75 residents in the last 7 years. Even if you go back and include a housing boom with lending that bankrupted our banks, we’ve only added 1,800 people in 25 years.

The city will continue to use these ridiculous numbers for planning until the plan is amended in 2017. The plan says the current population in 2013 is 5,235, about 1,000 higher than it actual is, and adds 145 more people each year. The truth is, Watertown has built 25 homes since 2006 — 3.5 per year. Meanwhile, the plan says we are building 70 per year. The projection is now more than 500 homes above the actual amount, and growing  by 66 per year. I was shown the inflated numbers being used to sell the bypass about a week after voting it down.

Even with exaggerated data that defies common sense, it was hard to see the need for another crossing or beltway after the downtown bridge gets built. I attended many workshops, meetings, and open public forums with impact statements from those affected and concerned. A petition with several hundred names asking the city to postpone/relocate the project, etc. Maybe, if Mr. Washburn went through that legal due process as I did, having complete information would change his obsession.

Strong arguments exist for the next crossing or bypass to be north of Watertown as was studied and presented.  The treatment facility is north of town, and extending sewer pipes to facilitate new growth further north would cost a fraction as compared to new growth south of town. The majority of the available lots are north. Also, there are transportation proposals of future light rail running from Delano to Minneapolis, which would drive all development north.  A second downtown crossing, with far less costs, was also studied and handled future traffic needs, and there wouldn’t be a bypass around downtown. The majority felt mapping the line in 2012 to the South as requested was conjecture and irresponsible. Just mapping it destroys those property values and makes them unsalable forever. Who wants a property with a beltway to be built through it?

We were told the new downtown bridge would handle 5,000 to 10,000 more cars a day.  With 9,800 cars per day now (96 percent of which is local traffic), the new bridge should be ample and serviceable long into the future.  It may be 15 to 20 years before the need to divert traffic around the city arises.

It’s nice the downtown bridge will be built first, and a no-brainer for me to keep it open during construction. Actual traffic studies can be done on the new bridge, rather than fictitious studies.

When the beltway is warranted by factual studies,  build it in the logical location.


Michael Walters