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City privatizes streets projects

John Colson

Aspen is privatizing about a third of its streets maintenanceprojects, hoping to save money and get the projects done morequickly than they could under normal procedures.Taking over some street work will be Koch Materials of Denver,which is a subsidiary of David Koch Industries. The company willrebuild or do critical maintenance projects on some 60 sectionsof city streets over the next couple of years.The company will then guarantee their work for a total of 15 years,under an agreement that is still under negotiation.According to city Streets Superintendent Jack Reid, his researchinto the program indicates the city will save money in the longrun.”The spread sheets prove that it’s, in fact, cheaper to do itthis way,” Reid said. That’s because it enables the city to haveits major street reconstruction work done sooner, rather thanrely on city street crews to do the same amount of work over amuch longer period of time. He said the savings primarily come from escaping the unavoidablerising costs due to inflation.Reid said city crews are only able to do a couple of streets peryear. At that pace, he said, some streets inevitably deteriorateto the point that they need “serious reconstruction work” thatcan cost from $1.60 to $5 per square foot of street. Under the Koch “performance roads” plan, he told the City CouncilMonday, streets that need reconstruction will get it right away,and those that don’t will be better maintained for the next 15years. So, for some streets “we may never get to the need forserious reconstruction,” Reid said.He said Koch expects to spend about $2.7 million, most of it inthe first year or two on the major reconstruction projects. Thesubsequent maintenance, he said, will be much cheaper than thecost of major reconstruction – about 50 cents per square footof street.Reid said Koch will take over responsibility for approximatelyone-third of the city’s streets, while Reid’s staff will retainresponsibility for 68 percent.”We have less serious work to do than Koch does,” Reid said, explainingthat Koch is taking over streets that were included in the city’ssix-year street projects plan, written in 1995.When asked by Councilman Jim Markalunas whether the crews willbe doing more “seal coating” of the streets to prevent cracksand the resultant breakup of the streets surfaces, Reid said thatis being done now and will continue to be done by city personneland by Koch.”Preventative maintenance is the absolute number one priority,”he said.The Koch contract will cost the city about $365,000 per year overthe 15 years of the program, said city Finance Director TabathaMiller.She also noted that the city had already set aside between $300,000and $350,000 per year for street reconstruction projects. Reidsaid that while the the annual costs of the Koch program are notmuch more than the city already would be spending, the potentialfor savings is considerable, because so much of the work is beingdone up front and the city will have lower street maintenancecosts once the program is over in 15 years.Reid said he will not be cutting his street crews back, explainingthat they will be able to devote more concentrated effort to thosestreets for which the city will still have responsibility.He also said Koch plans to hire locally for the work, answeringconcerns expressed by some on the council about keeping this kindof public spending in the local economy as much as possible.”I suppose it basically boils down to privatization,” said Kochrepresentative Bruce Walters, adding that he prefers the term”partnering.”Mayor John Bennett, praising the proposal, said, “I think it’sgreat when we can do that, when it makes sense.”


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