Bridge? Dam removal? Parking? Public works chief asks Batavia council for more direction

  • Traffic often backs up on the Wilson Street bridge in Batavia, but there's little consensus for a second downtown bridge.

      Traffic often backs up on the Wilson Street bridge in Batavia, but there's little consensus for a second downtown bridge. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • The Batavia dam, which has a breach on its east side and is crumbling. Removal of the dam, and doing something to keep water in Depot Pond after that, are on the list of things city aldermen consider high priorities.

      The Batavia dam, which has a breach on its east side and is crumbling. Removal of the dam, and doing something to keep water in Depot Pond after that, are on the list of things city aldermen consider high priorities. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer, June 2018

 
 
Updated 8/31/2018 6:39 PM

A second downtown bridge over the Fox River. More public parking lots downtown. Removing the dam and putting in something to make sure Depot Pond doesn't then drain away. Developing a master plan for the riverfront.

Batavia Public Works Director Gary Holm pointed to a seven-item list while giving his midyear department report earlier this week to aldermen. He estimated the cost of all the items at roughly $75 million.

 

"There is big money in just three or four of these bullet points," Holm said, adding the projects couldn't be done without getting more money, likely from property taxes.

Saying the city is at "a critical juncture," Holms urged the council to decide soon whether to set project goals and figure out ways to pay for them, or set financial goals and then figure out what can be done with the money.

"There is nothing wrong with saying, 'We want to keep taxes low,'" Holm said. But if the council is committed to that, it should not spend money or staff time on studies for projects that will not get done, he said.

"'Who is going to pay for it?' is always the question that we have had," Alderman Susan Stark said.

In late spring and early summer, the council reviewed results of a community survey (the first done in 10 years) as it started updating the city's strategic plan.

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Holm pointed to the Red Gate Road bridge over the Fox in St. Charles as an example of a local government committing to something by funding it. St. Charles identified the bridge corridor in 1998 and began saving to pay its portion of the cost. The bridge opened in 2012.

Batavians often complain about the length of time it takes to cross the Wilson Street bridge downtown. But in 2000, voters rejected borrowing money to build a second bridge. At that time, there was a lot of disagreement about where to put it.

The city then asked a citizens committee to recommend a site in 2009, but it merely gave a lengthy report on the pros and cons of five possible sites. A traffic consultant in 2011 suggested two sites and estimated the cost at $23 million. Mayor Jeff Schielke has said many times since then that he doesn't believe any state or federal money will be available and that residents would have to pay the whole bill.

The state was once willing to pay most of the bill of removing the failing dam. But Batavia voters, in an advisory referendum, said to keep the dam, and the city council dropped the idea of removing it. The breach continues to grow.

Holm's report took a peek into the future. He told the council a full-time maintenance worker will be needed for the new city garage to be built as part of the One North Washington apartment project. He still plans to put a columbarium, a building holding funeral urns, at the West Side Cemetery, but not until a storm sewer project through the cemetery is finished. He's keeping an eye on whether the state will require the city to replace the private portion of lead water service lines. A proposed change in state environmental rules could mean the city will have to add more chlorine to drinking water, changing its taste. The reconstruction of the Deerpath Road and Main Street intersection, including adding a traffic light, is on track for 2019, as is the reconstruction of Main from Route 31 to Water Street.

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