ONE LAST COUNCIL RHUBARB
Let’s pivot to the City Council’s Jan. 28 meeting.
The issue was whether to award a contract for $32.65 million to Sacramento-based Teichert & Son to build Fresno’s BRT stations and assorted improvements.
None of the money is to come from the city’s general fund.
Only two firms submitted bids. The Teichert bid was lower by far. Yet the Teichert bid was $4.4 million more than the city’s BRT budget and more than $9 million higher than an engineer’s estimated project cost.
After 75 minutes of talk, the council voted 5-2 to give the job to Teichert. Lee Brand and Brandau voted no.
BRT is coming to Fresno. The grand opening should come in 2017. But the firm opposition of two council members, and Brandau’s frustration in particular, figures to cast a pall over the project for some time to come.
The BRT debate in Fresno has a long and controversial history. Let’s not go there.
Simply put, BRT uses a few tricks of the trade to improve bus service. There are fewer stops. You pay your fare before boarding, thus eliminating the tedium of fare boxes. Buses at peak hours come every 10 or 15 minutes rather than the more typical 30- or 60-minute intervals. Something called “traffic signal priority” enables BRT buses to spend less time at stoplights.
The first BRT route is nearly 16 miles long. It’s shaped like a big “L” in the middle of Fresno. The route goes from River Park shopping center on the north end of Blackstone Avenue to Courthouse Park in Downtown, then heads east along the Ventura/Kings Canyon corridor.
There’s more to the system as currently planned. There are lots of plans to expand BRT as demand warrants and money becomes available. But you get the basic idea. Getting from Point A to Point B is easier and faster for BRT customers. They – and the city – win.
But it all costs dough. And there are no guarantees in life. So, BRT is a political gamble.
Brian Marshall, the city’s transportation director, pitched two items at the Jan. 28 council meeting. The first was the Teichert contract. The second was authorization to apply for a Measure C grant to fund a portion of the project.
City Manager Bruce Rudd cut to the chase: “We have identified a way to get the project within budget.”
These shortcuts include prefabricated bus shelters and used ticket-vending machines from the Las Vegas BRT system.
There was never any doubt that the council would approve both of Marshall’s requests. The tough votes had occurred in years past. BRT and Mayor Ashley Swearengin stumbled often, but persevered.
The only question was whether BRT opponents, just for the heck of it, would scorch the earth one last time.