Commission settles on Westwood improvements
By Grace Lovins
While members of the public who live on the affected street declared their opposition, the Birmingham City Commission approved modified street improvement projects to Westwood Drive, Raynale Drive and Oak Street, at their meeting on Monday, June 27.
Upgrades to the streets are part of the first street improvement project initiated under the Modified Street Improvement Policy adopted by the commission in October 2021. The project is driven by the need to upgrade infrastructure in neighborhoods, which include a water main replacement on Westwood between Raynale and Oak, a new water main on Raynale between Glenhurst and the city limits, on Oak between Glenhurst and the city limits, an extension of a separate storm sewer network, and repaving of the streets, as well as sidewalk improvements to meet ADA-compliance.
The proposed project from the city was to include complete reconstruction of the streets, with the cost for the street pavement improvements to be paid for by a special assessment to the adjoining property owners that benefit from the street improvement project, James Surhigh, the city's consulting engineer, said. However, due to objections from numerous residents, a cape seal project was approved by commissioners, along with water and sewer improvements.
“The special assessment process is a long-standing city policy when unimproved streets are improved,” Surhigh said.“Special assessments for drive approaches, and for water/sewer laterals not meeting current city standards are typical for these type of projects. With this project, improvements will be made to the sewer and water systems, the cost for which is paid from the sewer and water Funds, and are not subject to a special assessment.”
Surhigh presented three possible action the commission could take: include full street reconstruction in the project that meets the city’s standards for an improved street following the sewer and water system improvements; include patching trenches and full-width cape seal treatment after water and sewer system improvements; or to postpone the project.
He explained that a full reconstruction of the road would shift the specified streets from an “unimproved road” classification to an “improved road” classification, which is a city goal. An unimproved road is considered to be a gravel road with or without curbs that has been treated with a cape seal to provide a relatively smooth driving surface. An improved road is considered a road with curbs and gutters that has a concrete or asphalt surface.
City manager Tom Markus noted that improvements to the water and sewer systems will need to be made, regardless of if the commission were to postpone the project. The water issue, specifically the water main, fire hydrants and storm water system, is the driving factor of the project, he said.
Many residents from the impacted area made comments to the commission regarding the financial cost the project that would be imposed on residents as well as the lack of need, they believe, for a complete road reconstruction, or even reapplication of cape seal, on Westwood.
Corey Holter, a Westwood resident, noted that the project is being done for the public good, not for the residents who live on the street, however the residents will be required to aid in the cost of the project.
Steve Torok, also a resident of Westwood, echoed Holter’s frustration towards the public assessments associated with the project. He added that, while it is understood that the sewer and water systems will need improvements, the fixes to the actual street during the project are expensive and are not currently necessary.
Surhigh stated that f the commission were to decide on the water and sewer improvements with patching trenches and cape seal on the road, while the cost per household had not yet been finalized, it is projected to fall within $2,500 to $3,500 per household as a one-year cost.
Mayor Therese Longe remarked the city is making a significant investment in the project – over $1 million through the water and sewer fund.
“I think option B (cape seal) is the only option we can do because the subsurface requires attention, the subsurface is where the problem is. …To get to the subsurface we have to go through the surface,” commissioner Andrew Haig said. “We have a policy that is being created by the city but we shouldn’t apply it as a blanket policy without thinking about it. Thinking about the circumstances here, I would advocate for position B in this particular situation as the option to try and get to the best middle ground.”
Haig made the motion to approve the second proposed option – upgrading the water and sewer lines without full reconstruction of the street. The commission approved the motion, 5-2, commissioners Elaine McLain and Katie Shafer voting against.