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My Turn: DOT's comedy of expensive errors

A good road repaved, and mailboxes and trees mowed down in the name of spending stimulus cash

Posted: June 22, 2011 - 8:22pm  |  Updated: June 22, 2011 - 8:31pm

If this were a comedy, we’d be laughing. But it isn’t; it’s real life. It starts with the Department of Transportation & Public Facilities being given federal money as part of the stimulus package.

All over Juneau, Alaska and the U.S. roads have potholes, schools are falling down and bridges are crumbling. Alaska got its share to solve infrastructure problems. They needed ready-to-go projects and pulled out plans in files to start work on repaving the North Douglas Highway from Eaglecrest Road to the end of the road.

This stretch included the sorely needed repaving from the North Douglas boat launch to the False Outer Point parking lot, a stretch passed over when the Eaglecrest Road to the Boat launch and the parking lot to the end were last paved. And they added a wide paved shoulder on one side of this stretch which will provide a safety zone from high speed cars.

Although this section needed paving, many miles did not. About 5 years ago, miles of the highway were resurfaced with an experimental material which wore very well. When this was pointed out, DOT said they could find no record of this resurfacing project. But skipping sections, we were told, is not how it’s done: they do the whole road whether it needs it or not.

Since they were re-paving the road, they decided to replace the culverts “whether they need it or not.” DOTs inspection was to peer over the side of the road and then move on by car to the next culvert. I have been in our culvert every year, cleaning it out, something DOT never did and knew the culvert was fine. To replace the culverts, they needed to rip up the road, get a big digger and wrestle the old out and the new in. To do that, they had to take down the trees in the right of way and endanger eagle nests and roosting areas. But that was OK, because DOT got a permit to do it.

So, to recap: new pavement whether needed or not; new culverts whether needed or not. Trees down. Money spent.

Now comes the good part. We get home one day and there is a new mailbox on a post right next to our Post Office approved mailbox. Our mailbox is plastic and large, accommodating packages; its stand swings away so it is not knocked over by the snow plow.

The new mailbox is metal and the smallest U.S. Postal Service-approved box and sits on a stand just like the ones knocked down 12 times in one year by the snow plow. I begin to make calls. I learn that at least one neighbor has been told that the Post Office will not deliver to the new box because it is too far off the road. Pat Carroll at DOT says that the new boxes and supports meet “design standards” and are there because that’s the way DOT does it in repaving projects. No, the Post Office did not complain about any of the mailboxes. No, they had not been knocked down during construction. Some people, I am told, had mailboxes that didn’t meet design standards, so we all get new ones whether we need them or want them.

Each box costs $250.

What standard, you may ask, did these perfectly serviceable mailboxes not meet? Answer: they are too sturdy. A mailbox should break away when a car runs off the road and hits it, so the car can continue down into the ditch. Some people had mailboxes in planters or with stones and this, too, is not a design standard. But one neighbor has a new mailbox in the old planter.

Yes, we will now have to drive 20 miles to the post office to pick up packages, because the mailbox is so small. And the contractor is scheduled to come shortly to remove the old mailboxes and supports, paid for by the homeowners, from the right of way. And don’t forget to buy new metal numbers for the stand and new reflective numbers for the mailbox that is too small for your mail. More money spent, whether we need it or not.

I want state officials to understand public accountability and to have common sense. I want them to be concerned how our money gets spent.

• Waring lives on the North Douglas Highway.

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