There’s another Town of Mammoth Lakes-championed public works project which looks like it may be in trouble.
And it’s probably not the one you’re thinking of.
A few years ago, the Town announced that it was interested in taking over maintenance of Red’s Meadow Road.
This was the thinking. That the road was falling into deeper and deeper disrepair, and with the federal government continually scaling back funding and offloading responsibilities, there was/is legitimate concern that Red’s Meadow Road could literally be closed at some point in the future unless another entity (the Town) assumed responsibility for the road.
The Town applied for a Federal Lands Access Program (FLAP) grant and a $25 million reconstruction and rehabilitation on the 8.3 miles of roadway has been tapped as the preferred alternative.
Just last week, Town Engineering Haislip Hayes said project planning was 70% complete.
What could possibly go wrong?
The same thing, apparently, that went wrong for the Town of Mammoth when it was bidding the MUF. But this time, it’s the federal partners who are coming to grips with the fact that cost estimates may have shifted sharply upward over the past 18-24 months (though we’re constantly being told core inflation is muted. Bullshit. Ah, and I just checked. Core inflation is reported (today!) to have risen 0.3% last month – biggest increase in 18 months).
Red’s Meadow Resort owner Bobby Tanner said he was told this week by Red’s Meadow Road Project Manager Wendy Longley of the Federal Highway Administration that if the project became too expensive, FHA could wind up “doing absolutely nothing.”
He also said that a new “Option X” was presented this week by the FHA, with a narrower two-lane configuration and smaller retaining walls.
And this is not what the Town signed up for.
In order to agree to take over maintenance of the road, the Town asked for the biggest, baddest, two-lane project available – the safest road of the highest quality. The analogy offered by The Sheet and acknowledged by Haislip Hayes: “We want to assume maintenance of a new car versus a used car of questionable origin.”
But while the Town may be disappointed by potential project shrinkage, others who disapproved of the $25 million, two-lane project may be feeling a slight reprieve.
Such as Devil’s Postpile National Monument Superintendent Deanna Dulen. In comments she initially made during the environmental scoping process, Dulen talked about the cumulative impact that improved access would have on Red’s Meadow and Devil’s Postpile.
She referenced the 2009 General Management Plan which stated that the public supported the “rustic, undeveloped character” of the area.
“The visitor experience would be changed from a sense of going back in time to a special place by the urbanization of the road,” she added.
Further, she said, the existing road acted as a buffer of sorts to protect the valley.
“With the current bus traffic management and communications between drivers,” she wrote, “waiting for oncoming buses to pass by the turnout where the other bus waited, resulted in a de facto check and balance of the number and pacing of buses arriving at devil’s postpile and the disembarking of visitors. However, two-way traffic and no pacing of buses could lead to congested destination sites and long lines at comfort stations, resulting in a compromised visitor experience.”
So maybe a scaled-down project saves the valley from the human scourge.
But what I found interesting in the report … consider this. The U.S. Forest Service receives all the money at the gate for vehicle fees. It receives a small percentage for bus traffic – ESTA takes the rest.
If you had a road that deteriorated to the point where it couldn’t handle bus traffic, and you have a valley with very limited parking, one would assume that the laws of supply and demand would allow the Forest Service to raise vehicle fees exponentially without batting an eye.
Seems to me there are greater forces with more to gain by inertia than those who would benefit from the project.