• Mike Burkons

The Bryden-Richmond-Chagrin-271 project. What you need to know...

At tonight's Council Meeting, GPD, the firm hired to act as our City Engineer, will try for the third time since April of 2019, to get Council to approve moving forward with the $1.3m of design work for a $16m-$20m project to improve the Bryden/Richmond/Chagrin/271 area.


GPD has made it clear that if this project goes through, access between Bryden and Richmond will likely be limited to "right in/right out" or cut off completely by putting a cul-de-sac at the end of Bryden.


In GPD's previous failed attempts to move this project forward, a meeting was called where residents could have their questions answered and voice their support or concerns for this project. These meetings filled Council chambers with residents speaking out against this project, especially those who live on Bryden and streets near by, as well as those who live on Letchworth, where much of that traffic will be pushed to, when it is already a problematic area every day during the school drop off and pick up times.


At the meeting last Tuesday, when we were told we would be voting on this tonight, I suggested we delay the vote for a week so we could call a meeting like the ones we called in GPD's previous failed attempts, where residents could be heard. I am not making this up, but the reason given for why they didn't want a meeting like this was that it would be a waste of time because all it will do is fill Council chambers with residents speaking out against this project, like the two meetings in GPD's previous failed attempts to move this project forward.


Instead of making sure residents' opinions are heard, we plan to vote on this tonight as an "urgent measure" waiving the requirement that it must be read in 3 different meetings, despite there being nothing urgent about this as construction isn't slated to begin until 2026. Even if this was urgent, which is clearly is not, then GPD should have brought this to Council two months ago, so there would be readings at three meetings, and plenty of time for residents to voice their opinions, making them harder and more uncomfortable for those who want to ignore them.


Another problematic part of this entire thing is I imagine the plan is to award the $1.3m engineering design contract the way we always do, which is to follow GPD's recommendation and allow them to award it themselves, without allowing any other firm to be considered. Not only does this defy common sense, but by doing so, we are also violating ORC 153.65-.71 which requires engineering and design contracts over $50k must be awarded to the most qualified firm, in a specific competitive RFQ process which must be followed. The City acknowledges that we are awarding these contracts in violation of this state law, but says we have the discretion to ignore the law if we choose, which we don't.


To better understand this clear conflict of interest, let's begin by taking a quick look back at the history of this project, and GPD's role in it.


In October of 2017, Council was told that after many years of GPD coming up short in getting ODOT interested in a traffic improvement project for the Richmond/Chagrin/271 area, they finally got them to agree to fund 90% of a $591,111.11 safety study of the area, which GPD would get paid to provide but needed Council to vote to approve committing to pay the remaining 10%. Council was told this was the first step of this project that would cost $5.5m, which only 20% of would have to be paid by Beachwood (despite 1.5 years later being told the project's total cost increased to $15.8m, which Beachwood's share expected to be at least $4m). This passed in a 6-1 vote, as Council believed what GPD told them was true and accurate.


In April of 2019, GPD asked Council to approve moving forward with just the $950k of the design stage of this project which they were now told had increased to an estimated cost of $15.8m, with the expectation that Beachwood's costs would be at least $4m.


At this meeting, GPD fell one vote short of the four votes they needed as only Councilmember Berns, Synenberg and Taylor voted for it, with Isaacson, Pasch and Janovitz against it. The reasons provided by those who voted against it were...

  • There isn't any significant traffic issues with this area 95% of the time and even during the hour or so a day during the week where there is somewhat of an annoying amount of traffic, it isn't that bad and far from the type of problem that justifies such an expensive solution.

  • The benefits of the project were not only far from justifying the cost, but also not enough to justify the downside to those who live on Bryden, Letchworth and streets near by them.

On March 22, 2020, there was a committee meeting where GPD tried for a second time to make their case to convince Council to move forward with the approx. $1m design phase of the project. Very little changed in the year since they last tried besides the expected total cost increasing slightly from $15.8m to $16.4m. This second attempt was unsuccessful as it was clear there still wasn't the support again to move this project forward.


This brings us to the committee meeting last Tuesday on June 14, 2022. In this recent meeting, GPD told Council that at the next Council meeting on June 21, 2022 (tonight), Council would be asked for the 3rd time since 2019, to vote to only approve moving forward with the design phase of this project, which we are now told has increased to $1.3m.


It is important to note that in GPD's last attempt in March of 2020, they told Council that there were 424 crashes in this area between 2016 and 2018. However, at last Tuesday's meeting, we were told this number somehow increased and now there were 506 crashes in this area between 2016 and 2018. While it is very odd that these crash statistics from 2016-2018 somehow have increased from 2020, and the design costs increased 30% from $1m to 1.3m during these last two years, GPD told Council that the total project cost was $16.4m, the same amount they told us it would cost two years earlier.


At last Tuesday's meeting, I asked how the estimated total project cost could be the same it was two years ago, considering the record inflation? The GPD representative acknowledged that the total project cost would be higher than the $16.4m he just told us it would be, but couldn't tell us by how much until construction began, which is slated for 2026 because "the current state of construction is kind of a mess. Things are going up daily and we are hoping things are going to come back down".


No one seemed to have a problem that GPD openly admitted that the estimated total project cost they just provided us and we were expected to rely on wasn't true. Nor does it seem like anyone has a problem that they admit they have no idea what this project will end up costing, and won't until 2026, but want us to move forward anyways so they can start on the design phase which will result in $1.3m in fees for them.


Just like the previous two times before, GPD told Council that all we are being asked to approve is to move forward with the $1.3m for the design phase, which they will likely receive the contract for, without allowing any other firms to be considered. GPD told us that moving forward with this $1.3m design phase didn't commit the City to moving forward with the project if the total cost, or the cost Beachwood would have to pay for, came in bigger than expected, or there was a change in the makeup of Council that didn't see the value of this project.


(BTW, we all know that if this is approved tonight, once we get passed the $1.3m design phase, and residents voice their opposition then, we will be told, "We already have $2m into this between the $1.3m design phase and the $591k safety study, that would be wasted if we don't move forward". Of course it is terrible to throw away $2m like this but that is better than throwing away $20m on a project that doesn't make sense. However, this strategy worked when the bids for the fire station came in and they could no longer hide that this was going to be a $15m project, almost twice as expensive as promised. When people argued that we need to start the design process again, they were told, "we have to move forward because if we don't, the million dollars we already have into this will be wasted". This flawed reasoning worked to get the four needed votes on Council to move forward with the fire station project and I am sure the exact same flawed reasoning will work here after the design phase is finished and people voice their opposition to move forward then.)


At the meeting this past Tuesday, Council was also told they would only have to pay 20%, or around $300k of the $1.3m in design fees with ODOT paying the remaining 80%, up to $1m. However, it is unclear if we will have to reimburse ODOT the $1m if we decide not to move forward after the design phase. Alec Isaacson asked this specific question in the April 1, 2019 meeting and was told we would have to pay this money back. I don't know if that has changed but below is the part of that 2019 meeting where Alec asked this.


Short memory

From the start of this project, so many important things GPD told us, which we were expected to rely upon to be true, have turned out to be untrue.

  • In 2017 when GPD needed Council to vote to approve paying 10% of the $591k safety study they would be paid to produce, they told Council this was the first step of a $5.5m project which only 20% would be paid by Beachwood. A year and a half later Council was told the cost of this project had risen to $15.8m with Beachwood expected to pay $4m. I have heard of being off by 10% maybe 20%, but I have never heard of being off by 250% in a year and a half.

  • Last week when GPD was trying for a 3rd time to get Council to approve moving forward just with the $1.3m design phase, which they will likely receive, Council was told this area had 506 crashes between 2016 and 2018, and just two years earlier, GPD claimed that number of crashes during that period was only 424.

  • Last week GPD also told Council the total project cost was still $16.4m, the same amount they told Council it was two years earlier. When asked how that could be, they admitted it would be higher, but didn't know how much, and wouldn't until 2026 when it would go out to bid.

For some reason I can't explain, no one else sees the flaw of relying on GPD as the non-bias expert whose recommendations to move forward shouldn't be questioned, when they have a clear vested interest in that outcome as it will result in them receiving the $1.3m for the design phase of this project. On top of this clear and obvious conflict, when so many critical things GPD told Council in attempt to get us to move this forward on this project have turned out to be untrue, only a fool would rely on anything they tell us to be true, without verifying it independently.

  1. Does ODOT know that there is so much opposition to this project from residents that this is the 3rd time since 2019 GPD has tried to get four votes on Council to move it forward? (In the first attempt by GPD to push this through we are told, "If we don't approve this now, ODOT money will never be there again for Beachwood. Of course this turns out to be untrue, was the exact same thing we were told on their second attempt, and again what we are being told now.)

  2. Does ODOT know that GPD is telling us, in meetings that are recorded on video for anyone to see, that all we are being asked to approve is the $1.3m design phase and not to worry if we decide we don't want to move forward after that because if that happens, only $300k of Beachwood funds are being wasted since $1m of the$1.3m is coming from ODOT?

  3. Has anyone reached out to ODOT to find out if we have to reimburse them the $1m if we decide not to move forward after the design phase is completed? In 2019, we were told we would have to repay this amount and we should ask ODOT directly, instead of relying on what GPD tells us, if this is still the case?

  4. Does ODOT know and have any problem that Beachwood believes they have the discretion and authority to ignore the provisions in ORC 153.65-.71, which require engineering design contracts above $50k must be awarded in a specific competitive RFQ process, and instead Beachwood relies on and follow the recommendation of GPD, the firm hired to act as Beachwood's "City Engineer", and awards all these contracts to themselves, without allowing any other firm to be considered?

If ODOT knows all of this and really doesn't have an issue that we are told we shouldn't care if a million is wasted if we decide not to move forward after the design phase, because that million is ODOT's money, and not Beachwood's money, which is a very possible outcome since there is so much opposition to this project, then there really needs to be some questions asked about the way ODOT operates and their policies.


Conclusion

Everyone knows there is very little James Pasch and I agree on but the reason he provided for why he wasn't voting for this project in 2019, sums things up better than I could. In short, he said the project will provide some benefits but far from enough to justify a $15m project, even if Beachwood only had to pay $4m. While we clearly can't rely on GPD to be truthful with us, if they were telling us this was a $16.4m project in March of 2020, with the recent 15% annual increases in construction costs, we shouldn't be surprised if the total cost is near or exceeds $25m by 2026, when it would go out to bid.


I expect they will say that there is no way this project will even exceed $20m, and not to listen to me as I am just trying to stoke fears. Please remember that they are the same people who told you that the $15m backup fire station project cost would be under $8m, and not to listen to me when I said it would likely be close to twice that amount, claiming that I was "stoking fears".


In the April 2019 meeting, James Pasch went on to say that this area just isn't that big of a traffic problem 95% of the time, and as for the other 5% of the time, when you drive around 5pm or 8am, part of the deal is an expectation that it might take two light cycles to get through this area instead of one, which is far from a problem that justifies an expensive solution like this.


While GPD claims that this intersection is one of the most dangerous in Ohio, it isn't even the most dangerous in Beachwood as Richmond/Cedar has consistently ranked higher on ODOT's list. In 2019, Richmond/Chagrin didn't even rank in ODOT's 150 most dangerous intersections in Ohio, and in 2020, it didn't even rank in ODOT's ten most dangerous intersections in Cuyahoga County, while three in Mayfield Hts. made that list.


I will end this by posting a short clip below from the 2019 meeting where a Councilman Isaacson explained why he was voting against moving this project forward. These reasons are more relevant today, than they were back then because the only things that have changed is...

  1. The project has gotten more expensive, but by how much, we don't know,

  2. This intersection's safety ratings from ODOT have improved since then, and,

  3. So much that GPD has told us about this project has turned out to be untrue that only a fool would believe anything they say, especially when they have a clear vested interest and 1.3m reasons to get Council to vote to move this forward.

We will see tomorrow night if common sense prevails, but I wanted to put together this post so if this vote finally passes, when things we were told by GPD turn out to be untrue, no one can try to claim that was unforeseeable.


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