Posted tagged ‘capital improvements’

Gardens Interchange? Gateway to Combahee Ferry Historic District??

July 8, 2010

US-17, Gardens Corner, Beaufort County, SC – June 26, 2010

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US-17 widening: 8 miles, $80 million

These images show the southwestern terminus of the highway widening project.  The northeastern terminus, a bridge over the Combahee River, is a fascinating footnote to the project.  This article in The State by Wayne Washington, published nearly five years ago, details a historical find during environmental screening before construction: a ferry used by Harriet Tubman in 1863 to lead a force that freed 700 slaves. 

This site is near the geographic center and bottleneck of the Gullah-Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, a program of the National Park Service. (Learn more here.)  This is a great opportunity to erect interpretive information and raise awareness of the corridor and its significance.  The location has been the foot of a Combahee River bridge for a long time; remnants of a suspected pontoon bridge and Confederate earthworks also exist here.  SC DOT’s proposal to acknowledge this history appears here on its website.

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Resources for Planning and Leadership

June 17, 2010

A couple of outstanding resources have been published recently.  First, “The Ideal Workplace: How to Boost Productivity, Commitment, & Job Satisfaction” from Harvard Business Review OnPoint collects articles and stories from the past 20 years of HBR that should help you and your office circle the wagons as you re-emerge from the downward economic cycle.  Get it here.

Second is a special report from the Financial Times, “The Future of Cities: Regeneration.”  The venerable newspaper offers insights into urban planning and design and pulls no punches.  Topics range from vision to finance and fine arts to transit investment.  Discussions touch on Cairo, London, and New York. 

The first author gives both Charleston and Charlotte food for thought for disparate reasons, stating, “The best cities coexist with their history without destroying or obsessively preserving it (“Building on the Past Gives Hope for Future,” Edwin Heathcote, 19 May 2010).

One of the most architecturally striking cities in the world, Chicago is also stuffed with the kind of solid, everyday structures that allow change and adaptation and this keeps it open to innovation and change in a way other cities envy.  Detroit boasts similar architectural quality, (yet) the centre of Detroit is a tragedy on an awesome scale.  Detroit demonstrates the strange absence of any semblance of universal rules.  Cities are paradoxically robust and delicate, their complex systems infinitely adaptable yet also capable of stalling once prices are high enough.

An expert interviewed for the article “Funding and Social Capital Are Key Factors” (Rod Newing, ibid) “recommends the North Carolina model, where the state government reviews all issues (of municipal derivatives) and is conservative about the amount of debt that can be issued.

A third article will surely challenge practicing and aspiring leaders. “Wanted: A Strong Mayor with Vision to See off Rival Centers” (Rod Newing, ibid) asserts, “The mayor and local city government cannot work in isolation. The city vision cannot be restricted to its historical political boundary, but must encompass surrounding areas and the whole region.

While much of this special report cites a need for and encourages city planning, Newing closes his second article with sobering conclusions from Ged Drugan from Manchester Business School’s executive education center:

The megatrend driving regeneration of cities is our lifestyles, which will dictate both the physical fabric and the way we live within cities.  Lifestyles will drive evolution and regeneration of cities, rather than local government planning.

Find these articles on the Financial Times’ website.

Happy planning!

Pedestrians Valued on SC’s Most Iconic Drive

May 4, 2010

If you were a business owner, how much would you pay so that your patrons could safely reach your front door?  The answer, in Myrtle Beach at least, is $3,000. 

Sunday’s Charlotte Observer reports that hoteliers along Ocean Boulevard approached the City of Myrtle Beach in search of pedestrian improvements.  The City agreed to split the cost of mid-block pedestrian crossings with them 50/50. 

A mid-block crossing in North Charleston, located where no stop sign or signal exists to pause through-traffic

The improvements are part of a larger effort to make Ocean Boulevard safer and more accessible for everyone.  Bicycle lanes will replace two automobile lanes and a left-turn lane will be introduced. Mid-block crossings are needed for pedestrians because signalized intersections are currently too few and far between.

Myrtle Beach is perhaps fortunate that it could afford to reduce the number of automobile lanes on Ocean Boulevard. City-commissioned studies, according to staff, reported that pedestrians could not safely cross four lanes of traffic on this street even in a crosswalk. Many communities do not have the luxury of spare automobile travel lanes.  The answer to their challenge is good urban design and appropriate engineering, not to throw in the towel.  State law dictates that motorists stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk. A rebuttal that crosswalks should not be provided because too many motorists fail to yield the right of way is akin to arguing for abolishment of speed limits on account of motorists typically driving 5 mph above the posted limit or of turn signal requirements because too few signalize their intentions.

The Myrtle Beach business community and city government concluded their changes are appropriate because Ocean Boulevard is a destination. Getting travelers safely and conveniently to this place is more important than getting motorists through it. Evidence that good urban design is good for business. Good urban design is good for South Carolina.

Should Local Government Be Profitable?

April 8, 2010

At the SCAPA conference in Greer two weeks ago (3/26/10), the last speaker of a warm, sunny Friday was the most thought provoking. Beaufort City Manager Scott Dadson applies his finance background to his role as the City’s chief executive officer. Dadson equates taxpayers to investors and users of public services as customers.

Alas, Dadson has not posted the presentation he gave to South Carolina’s city and regional planners, as promised, yet the Beaufort City Manager’s web page offers plenty of resources. Here are my takeaways.

In Dadson’s “Getting Our Heads out of the Sand” (That’s right, Dadson wrote, presented, and delivered a document to the Beaufort Chamber of Commerce titled “Getting Our Heads out of the Sand!”), Dadson defines profit, in local government terms, as desired results, which furthermore equate to the net present value of a decision and the cost of the future.

Dadson quotes author Ken Miller (We Don’t Make Widgets: Overcoming the Myths That Keep Government from Radically Improving, Governing Books, 2006), “To say we’re not here to make a profit is akin to saying we’re not here to achieve results… When we are not focused on results, we get bogged down in how we do things (policies, procedures, and process) and forget why we are doing them in the first place.”

Dadson applies this thinking to capital budgeting, a responsibility common to both, business and local government. He points out that local government councils rarely consider the increase or decrease in cash flow due to a capital project; rather, a decision to implement is based strictly on initial cost. Operating costs and changes in revenue (due to altered property values or new permit fees, for instance) are neglected; and what are the costs (in unrealized revenue) of forgoing the improvement altogether?

In his presentation to SCAPA, Dadson highlighted the cost burden of the cul-de-sac to taxpayers. Cul-de-sacs are typically constructed by the private sector, so local government incurs no capital cost. The design, however, requires public service vehicles to double back on each service call (trash pick-up, school bussing, etc.), thus raising costs to taxpayers for labor, fuel, and vehicle maintenance.

In “Getting Our Heads out of the Sand,” Dadson raises the example of firehouses. Clearly, increased fire protection has tangible and intangible benefits to taxpayers; however, local government must consider the costs of staffing and equipping each firehouse in addition to initial capital costs incurred for construction, even if these costs are nil, as in the recent environment of “”pay to play” residential growth (i.e., developer-funded infrastructure to serve proposed land development).

If local government were to function more like a business, customers (residents, merchants) would demand effective service delivery, investors (taxpayers) would demand return on investment (taxes paid), and the board (city council) would make the most profitable decisions (yielding optimal results) based on informed professional leadership of the CEO (city manager), recognizing that the most profitable (efficient, beneficial) course of action is only sometimes the cheapest up front and occasionally to refuse or reduce service. The sum of decisions that account for the cost of the future will profit the taxpayer, the resident, and the merchant in the form of better public services and/or lower taxes (the desired outcomes) over time.