Stimulus target in Chico’s sights

‘Shovel ready’ capital projects lined up for federal funding

READY TO ROLL <br>Thanks to efforts spearheaded by Bob Greenlaw (left) and Tom Varga, Chico’s Capital Projects Services Department has a series of projects considered “shovel ready” once stimulus funding comes through.

Thanks to efforts spearheaded by Bob Greenlaw (left) and Tom Varga, Chico’s Capital Projects Services Department has a series of projects considered “shovel ready” once stimulus funding comes through.

Photo by evan tuchinsky

Local list
BCAG will consider potential projects March 25. The short list should be posted on by Thursday evening (March 19) in the Board Meeting Agendas section.

Bob Greenlaw is “a legislative junkie.” That’s how his boss describes him, and that’s what he’s been called at recent Chico City Council meetings whenever the topic of stimulus-funded projects arises.

Greenlaw is a senior civil engineer for the city’s Capital Project Services Department, a member of the “design team” under Capital Projects Director Tom Varga. The workings of government fascinate him, so he keeps tabs on bills, particularly those that could affect the city. “I read the Internet a lot,” he explained, sitting with Varga late Tuesday afternoon.

Catching Greenlaw’s attention early was the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“Ever since they started talking about the stimulus program, I was on government [Web] sites tracking its progress through Congress,” he said. “I was really interested in how the city can position itself to get whatever it can.”

As the bill morphed, the city adapted. The engineering design team—Greenlaw, Lane Green, Jeff Jukkola, Craig Murray, Gary Lovegrove and Tyler Bodner—assessed potential projects for applicability under the evolving proposal. The first wave of funding would go to “shovel ready” projects, ones that could get under way quickly. Greenlaw and Co. wanted to make sure they had a set of those that met federal standards in order to increase the chance of approval.

The stimulus bill, which passed on Feb. 13 and was signed by President Obama on Feb. 17, calls for $787 billion to flow through state governments for an array of improvements: transportation, housing and community development, energy and the environment, public safety, homeland security, workforce development and training, and arts, history and libraries.

Half of the money was earmarked for rapid infusion—within 120 days of when it was made available, March 2. (Thus the emphasis on “shovel ready.”) The other half will get awarded into 2010. A portion heads directly into state coffers; the remainder gets passed on to municipalities via regional organizations such as the Butte County Association of Governments.

Here in California, state officials made an initial sweep of approvals for big projects sitting on the shelf just waiting for funding, such as the $17.4 million improvement to Highway 99 near Gridley. But there’s a lot of money yet to go out … and a lot of engineers and contractors hoping it comes their way.

“Every day, it gets a little clearer how the state is going to allocate money,” Greenlaw said—and, added his boss, “Bob has all those subtle differences in mind.”

What exactly is Capital Project Services looking at?

First and foremost is the completion of improvements to the Skyway corridor around the Highway 99 interchange. “It’s the best choice because it’s just waiting for dollars; the rest [of the permitting process] is done,” Varga said. “Once they tell us money is on the way, we can start bidding [from contractors].

“That will probably take the bulk of the stimulus money,” he added, but if more comes available, the next priority will be repaving streets and roadways around town: Bruce Road (between California Park and Highway 32), Salem Street (between First and Eighth), Cohasset Road (from East Avenue to just north of Eaton), Rio Lindo (Esplanade to Cohasset), Manzanita Avenue (from Marigold to East) and possibly the length of Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway.

Varga has included all these and others on lists sent to BCAG, the League of California Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Also on the wish list are sustainable energy endeavors: building additional solar arrays and converting all city street lights to LED bulbs. “We definitely want to run out of money before we run out of projects,” he said.

At the moment, there’s no solid basis for determination.

Take BCAG-administered stimulus funds. Ivan Garcia, programming manager for BCAG, said the county’s share is $10.7 million. However, legislators are considering a bill that would speed up disbursement, but under the formula that would get used in that instance, our share would drop to $9.6 million. (Price tag for the Skyway project: $5.5 million.)

Garcia expects to know the exact figure by the time the BCAG board meets Wednesday morning (March 25) to go over the short list of projects recommended by staff. This uncertainty, though, is typical in a process that is forcing government bureaucracies to work faster than normal.

“That’s part of Bob’s nimbleness,” Varga said. “We want to be able to jump on a very fluid situation and be prepared for changes.”