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Lockport City Council blocks new sidewalk plans

LOCKPORT – A much-discussed and long-planned proposal for new pedestrian walkways on portions of Farrell Road and Division and Briggs streets has failed to get approval from the Lockport City Council due to inflated costs.

Following a lengthy debate Wednesday night in the committee of the whole meeting prior to the city council's regular meeting, a divided council denied D Construction Inc.'s bid of $741,887.43 for the project to connect portions of Farrell Road and Division and Briggs streets with new sidewalks and bike paths for contiguity and better pedestrian access and safety.

Another $100,000 contract with Strand and Associates for engineering inspection services for the project was also denied.

The project was originally approved in 2010 by a previous council when the costs were estimated to be about $570,000, as opposed to the latest estimation of about $850,000.

Council members Joanne Bartelsen, Bob Perretta and J.R. Gillogly voted in favor of both contracts while council members Darren Deskin, Brian Smith, Kris Capadona and Jim Petrakos voted against the project, according to an interview Thursday with City Administrator Ben Benson.

Mayor Steven Streit voted "yes" to get on the record but his vote did not count and Alderman Jason VanderMeer was absent, said Benson.

Streit, during the discussion portion earlier, said he appreciated that the council was being "prudent" about discussing concerns of higher costs and possible cost overruns, which he said are "legitimate," but he was ultimately in favor of going forth with the project and "honoring what the previous council had started," according to a video of the committee meeting posted on the city website.

Deskin, Petrakos, and Smith cited two main concerns: the cost of the project had risen so high that an Illinois Department of Transportation grant of $456,000 received in 2010 would only cover about 50 percent of the total cost as opposed to 80 percent and portions of the project covered unincorporated areas that fall under Lockport Township.

About 11 homes on the south side of the Farrell Road and Division Street intersection, and another portion along the east side of Briggs Street south of Division Street are unincorporated.

"I cannot, in good conscience, support spending a penny on any portion outside the city limits when three blocks from my house I have roads that are some of the lousiest roads in town," Deskin said in the video.

Petrakos said that the $490,000 of motor fuel tax funds the council allocated early last month for the project could be used instead as the city's contribution to a possible $2 million future state grant that would cover "a lot more sidewalks."

While citing safety as a main concern, Perretta and Bartelsen also said they feared that denial of the project would jeopardize future grants by not using one IDOT had held for the city for seven years.

Perretta, who, along with Smith, was on the council when the plan was originally approved in 2010, also said that he was certain that this was a project that residents were in favor of despite the unincorporated areas that would benefit and that "residents are the boss."

Three residents did speak in favor of the project prior to the council's vote, including Mervet Nolte of Sizzles restaurant, who said that having contiguous walking paths would benefit children, the elderly and disabled residents for whom walking and riding bikes and scooters on streets pose a safety concern.

"Just because someone hasn't been hurt yet, doesn’t mean they won't be hurt in the future," Nolte said in the video.

Benson said in the phone interview that with the denial of the bid the city would have to pay back IDOT about $44,000 of the original grant money that was used for engineering costs.

He added that the city would go back to IDOT and discuss changing the project — including removing the two unincorporated portions along the south side of Division Street — while staying "within the same footprint" of the original project in order to possibly keep the funding.

Having "to go back to the drawing board," the project, if it comes to the council again, would not go out to bid until 2018 at the earliest, he said.

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