Skepticism Over Needles Officials’ Stampede To Finish I-40 Interconnect Job

Eyes were rolling on Tuesday, September 27 when Needles City Manager, Rick Daniels claimed that the city would need to pay back the $5 million spent in engineering and environmental studies if construction on the Needles I-40 Interconnect Project is not completed by next June.
The engineering and environmental certification on the project exceeded by more than $2 million the $2,804,945.38 “base bid” cost for construction on the undertaking. The Sentinel’s review of available records indicates a more accurate calculation on expenditures to date for studies, engineering and design changes are closer to $7 million.
The “interconnect” was originally planned to be a “fly-over” route that involved the expansion and reinforcement of a bridge over the Colorado River and an elevated four-lane highway over the railroad tracks and alongside the Needles golf course connecting Interstate 40 at the J Street offramp in Needles with Arizona 95 toward Bullhead City, Arizona. Due to pressure from a “downtown business alliance” however, the project now involves widening to four lanes and installing traffic lights at certain intersections on an existing wind-about truck route. While traffic signals were to be installed at three intersections, members of the public were surprised to learn from Daniels that only two intersections would now be treated with automated signals and the third at the corner of K Street and Needles Highway would continue to be a four-way stop, although traffic counts show this corner to be the busiest of the three.
It is the hope of the Needles Downtown Business Alliance that the system will save their section of town adjacent to the railroad depot from being “bypassed” by a more straight forward routing of Arizona traffic. According to Daniels, it is the high cost of carrying out the original plan that justified the changes made, although the Sentinel has been copied with documents showing that the original plans are responsible for only about half the $7 million spent on preliminary work and that remaining half could have been obligated for construction of the original planned thoroughfare.
Needles area attorney Barbara Beardsley asked for clarification concerning information contained in an agenda item summary. Beardsley wanted to know what constituted “proof” of a “disadvantaged business enterprise.” Daniels clarified that CalTrans is required to certify that the contractor either hired or made their best efforts to hire the handicapped to obtain this type of certification.
Daniels stated that negotiations on the price to be paid for one last property seized by eminent domain is ongoing but that action by the council could be taken now to move the project forward. The Needles City Council and manager were tight lipped concerning competing bids and the clerk failed to email to the public the backup packet, as is the normal routine. The council then voted unanimously to accept a bid from Hal Hays Construction Company of Riverside in the “base bid” amount of $2,804,945.38 and issue a notice of award despite written protest and protest voiced at the meeting objecting to the destruction the historic Route 66 footprint.
Concerning the project, some Route 66 aficionados and historians say a section includes a unique and significant curve and median on the historic mother road that would be demolished. At the meeting Daniels did not mention the letter that the National Historic Route 66 Federation sent to him objecting to the destruction of the curve. The letter from David Knudsen, the president of this plus 1,000-member organization, urged the city to redesign its plans to avoid destruction of the Route 66 curve.
Knudsen’s letter reads in part: “Route 66, at its transverse through the City of Needles, is a key component of the iconic “Mother Road.” The historic remains of its footprint and the structures that were established along the Route, throughout its period of principal use in Needles, stand at the gateway to Southern California and as such herald the arrival of sojourners on Route 66 from the other 47 states. Our effort involves attempting to preserve the contouring and the original footprint of the entire road and for that reason we are concerned about the impact that the City of Needles’ proposed ‘I-40 Interconnect Project’ will have upon numerous Route 66 historic structures and their settings as well as the footprint at the intersection of Needles Highway and Broadway.
Ruth Musser-Lopez who is a candidate for one of the three city council seats to be voted on November 8, voiced concern that CalTrans and city officials conspired to avoid using the term “road expansion” and intentionally ignored the existence of historic structures including the curve and median and a multi-level brothel with underground passages to the train depot that would be impacted by the project and in so doing wrongfully represented that the federally funded project is exempt from the National Environmental Policy Act’s requirement for public review of environmental impact disclosure. A voter initiative that she authored, she said, “has received enough signatures to qualify for the ballot an ordinance that requires the preservation of the unique Route 66 corner curve. “ Musser-Lopez beseeched the council, “Please respect the voice of the people.”.
An organization that Musser-Lopez is director of, the River Branch of the Archaeological Heritage Association, also submitted written objection to the award of the project requesting that the project be redesigned to avoid demolition of the curve.
Musser-Lopez told the Sentinel, that if elected she would urge the council to negotiate with the Federal Highway Administration for funding for a “change order” to redesign the plans to avoid destruction of the corner.
Needles’ mayor, Dr. Ed Paget, owns the home in which the historic brothel was located, the setting of which will be impacted by the project. He was absent from the meeting. It is at the corner where his property is located that the signals were eliminated from the project and the four way stop will remain.

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