Entries Tagged 'Public Works' ↓

6th Street Bunker Bridge Debacle proves the Sioux Falls City Council is bought and paid for, again

While the Sioux Falls City Council still has an opportunity to redeem themselves next Monday with a reconsideration on the vote, I don’t have much hope they will get the 5 votes needed to overturn it.

Most people would jump at a do-over, especially after finding out as NO fault of their own they were mislead into believing it was an EMERGENCY. We all know now that was a bunch of phooey.

The main reason this redemption may not happen is that the 6 councilors who originally voted for this have all received campaign funding and endorsements from Mayor TenHaken. I can almost guarantee without his campaign assistance, PAC money and endorsements the last 4 elected would have all lost or had been close races.

Paul knows what he did, they know what he did, we all know how that cookie crumbles.

Ask Janet Brekke and Theresa Stehly what happens to you when you challenge our very own King of Scotland. The castle tower you live in becomes very cold and dark very suddenly.

UPDATE: What Happens Next with the 6th Street Bunker Bridge?

UPDATE: Shelby Foote concluded that most historians are “so concerned with finding out what happened that they make the enormous mistake of equating facts with truth…you can’t get the truth from facts. The truth is the way you feel about it”

Not sure what is so ‘exclusive’ about the only daily paper in Sioux Falls interviewing the only mayor of Sioux Falls, but it makes for good fluff and puff and drama;

In an exclusive interview with the Argus Leader this week, Mayor Paul TenHaken said he firmly believed the bridge project was a crucial infrastructure project, but he added he’s actively listened to the complaints from the council.

“Is there some things I would like my team and myself to do differently on the communication of this?” TenHaken asked. “Absolutely.”

Sorry Paul, you have had almost 5 years to figure out how to communicate to the public and council, and if you haven’t figured it out by now, you never will.

As to the incorrect language on the meeting agenda, which an assistant city attorney has already called “unfortunate,” TenHaken agreed.

“I would chalk that up … that was an oversight,” he said. “That was a mistake, and we’ll own that.”

There are small legal language mistakes the administration has made numerous times, which probably has cost taxpayers but this ‘mistake’ is costing taxpayers $10 million dollars! Sure the bridge has to be fixed, and we have plenty of money in the reserves to do it, but it is the fiscal responsibility of city employees, the mayor’s office and the city council to get the best bang for the buck. If we saved $10 million on this project we could spend that money on other infrastructure projects. The timing is also questionable. I would think it would be way more convenient to do this project next year after the Cherapa and Sioux Steel projects are completed so the contractor doesn’t have to play whack a mole to find staging space. It could also be broken up into smaller bids. This could be negotiated better.

But he also raised concerns about how such fights could hurt the Sioux Falls, adding “when we make these smaller issues such big issues on a public stage,” it can lessen the interest of some to work with the city.


Government’s job isn’t about making contractors and developers happy, it is about making taxpayers happy and giving them goods and services in an honest and truthful manner while being aware of the fiscal responsibility.

Throwing our hands in the air and saying ‘oh well’ doesn’t cut it, this was a failure of local government on many levels. The Mayor’s number one priority is to be the city administrator responsible for directing the different departments to do their job right. Either this was gross incompetence by all involved or this was collusion. Either would be hard to prove in an ‘exclusive’ interview with the mayor, but public ethics hearings on all those involved would go a long way. We have learned nothing from our brief history of cost overruns and hidden agendas on projects like the Denty, MAC, City Admin, Pavilion and the infamous Bunker Ramp which should have prepared us for how to handle this.

You know what they say, “Developers run this town”.

The Sioux Falls City Council plans to meet Monday February 5th. They are meeting early due to Municipal Day in Pierre on the 6th.

At least one Councilor, Sarah Cole, has expressed to the media that she may vote to reconsider at the next meeting. She is allowed to do so since she was in the affirmative when it it passed. Any councilor may 2nd the motion (which I am sure Neitzert or Starr would). The problem is ‘do they have the votes’. I don’t think they do. They would have to get Merkouris and Barranco to also vote for it to attain the 5 votes to avoid a tie-breaker. TenHaken would likely vote against the bid denial.

What makes this more interesting is how councilors were mislead and even lied to about the urgency of the project. Even if the council swallows this (I strongly urge them NOT to) they could easily file ethics complaints towards the mayor, city attorney, finance director and public works director and any employees under them that participated in this hoodwink. It would likely require a councilor(s) to file the complaint.

Let’s have a public ethics hearing and find out what happened?

All that aside and the $21 million dollar bridge that we are getting whether we like it or not (reminds you of a certain parking ramp) many engineers have reached out to me, councilors and other reporters, and when we all match up notes, we are wondering how the winning bidder was allowed to submit ONE bid for the entire project when they were required to get at least 3 bids from subcontractors (SOP)? Enquiring engineers would like to know.

Sioux Falls City Council expresses their displeasure with being the administration’s doormat

For clarity NO councilor today at the 4PM special meeting used the term ‘doormat’ but they really didn’t have to. After being hoodwinked into believing they could take another stab at the bid today they realized the mayor’s office, the city attorney’s office and finance office used the wrong language last Tuesday on the agenda item which an assistant city attorney admitted to at today’s meeting after Councilor Cole questioned the language (Councilors Cole, Neitzert and Starr all voted against the $3 million supplement).

Let’s admit it, the bridge is a POS and needs to be replaced, it will also cost more then projected, I think everyone can accept that. What cannot be accepted is the way this was ramrodded through with little transparency OR respect for councilors. Four councilors touched on this;

Councilor Neitzert, clearly disgusted with the process, pointed out that he felt that the administration was disrespecting the council’s duties (he puts it much more eloquently) when it comes to how they were treated in this process and they should work as a team on this stuff;

“The city council should not tolerate an enormously expensive and important decision being dropped on us at the last minute, giving us no opportunity to do due diligence and no option to defer or delay it,” Neitzert said. “We shouldn’t tolerate being put into a corner with no options and we imposed no consequences for that behavior. In fact, we rewarded it. So don’t be surprised when it happens again.”

Councilor Cole expressed that she didn’t think it was fair to be mislead with incorrect agenda language at last week’s meeting.

Councilor Merkouris felt that the council (the legislative policy body) should put some safeguards and ordinances together over the next 30 days to prevent this from happening in the future (he looked pretty green while talking about this).

Councilor Starr reminded Merkouris that this kind of policy takeover has been going on since the new charter was put in place and that tweaks to policy ordinances hasn’t really remedied the problem that has only gotten worse since each administration has figured out how to sidestep the council. Pat basically said that the council needs to assert themselves more to become the policy body they are intended to be (it takes ACTION not talk);

“Power doesn’t exist in a vacuum,” said councilor Pat Starr, who joined Neitzert in voting no to accept the bid. “They take over our policy making process when we don’t do our job. That’s what happened in this case and it happens all the time. It will happen again because until we stand up and do our job, and not doing the work that we should, and telling the administration where we want the city to go in making that policy and until we do that they are going to continue to make policy.”

According to Charter the roles of the council and mayor are pretty freaking clear;

Section 2.01 General powers and duties.

All powers of the city shall be vested in the city council, except as otherwise provided by law or this charter, and the council shall provide for the exercise thereof and for the performance of all duties and obligations imposed on the city by law. The council shall act as a part-time, policy making and legislative body, avoiding management and administrative issues.

Section 3.03 Mayor’s duties and responsibility.

The mayor shall, at the beginning of each calendar year, and may at other times give the council information as to the affairs of the city and recommend measures considered necessary and desirable. The mayor shall preside at meetings of the council, represent the city in intergovernmental relationships, appoint with the advice and consent of the council the members of the citizen advisory boards and commissions, present an annual state of the city message, and perform other duties specified by the council and by article III. The mayor shall be recognized as head of the city government for all ceremonial purposes and by the governor for purposes of military law.

I encouraged the city council during public input to vote to reconsider at the next February meeting since it was NOT of their fruition, and if the contractor wants to sue, that is on the administration and NOT on them for being mislead. It seems at least one councilor, Cole, intends to do that;

To formally reconsider an action of the council, a member on the prevailing side of the vote must make that motion during the same meeting or at the next regularly scheduled meeting of the governing body, according to city ordinance. But because Tuesday’s meeting was not a regular meeting, Sioux Falls City Attorney Stacy Kooistra said the soonest that could occur would be at the Feb. 6 meeting.

Cole told The Dakota Scout Tuesday evening she intends to do just that.

“There just wasn’t enough time ahead of the vote,” she said.

As always, when government is transparent and thorough, it saves taxpayers money. When it is chocked full of typos in the legal documents (either intentional or not) you get this turd blossom; Bunker Bridge.

Was fuzzy math used in bid tabulation for 6th Street Bunker Bridge?

There has been much discussion and consternation over the bridge. Two years ago we replaced the 8th street bridge with more decorative elements for $8 million. So how is it that the new rebuild will be $21 million? Some argue that it has to do with the multiple steps in this rebuild. Some argue inflation. Others have told me that since it is ARPA money they need to shove it out the door. There has been requests (not by me) that the Council does it’s own independent audit and investigation (they have this ability in the charter) or that the Feds should look into RICO violations. Others in the private engineering sector have all come to the same conclusion; this ‘deal’ probably didn’t magically come together by itself but with collusion and pressure from certain downtown developers and contractors.

Rumors be damned!

One of the sticking points the Public Works Director Mark Cotter used to trick the city council into voting for the Bunker Bridge was that is was unsafe. Holes have been blown into that argument;

And in the most recent inspection of the Sixth Street Bridge, done in 2020, inspectors assigned its overall structural integrity a 4 based on a 0-9 grading system, according to a review of data by The Dakota Scout. While not great, a 4 means a bridge “meets minimum tolerable limits to be left in place as is,” according to federal criteria.

But it didn’t take Joe and Jon needling thru Federal Safety inspections to see the obvious; if this bridge is so unsafe why have they allowed large heavy machinery and building materials to go across this bridge all summer? Even Councilor Neitzert pointed out at the meeting, if it is so bad, why don’t you close it?

I decided to dig thru the bid tabulation sheet to see if I could find any wiggle room, this is what I found;

• Mobilization: $4,341,000

• Temporary Works: $2,610,000

I have no doubt these are actual expenses but I find that the two biggest expenditures in this bid are NOT broken down. This would be a very easy place to pad the bid. I think council needs to ask the contractor to break this down for them.

• Class A45 Concrete, Bridge Deck: $4,914,420

Concrete will be a big expenditure for this bridge, but with the way that prices are fluctuating it would be hard to say this is actual. Heck, it could be more or this number could also be padded.

I also would like to go into some smaller numbers that really make you scratch your head;

• Benches: 3 at $4,000 each

Looks like I need to get into the steel bench making business!

• Relocate LSS Monument Sign: $25,000

Seems the sign relocation business is very lucrative also (they probably run a side business making benches).

• Sprinkler System: $56,000

Just in case the bike trail catches on fire and doesn’t spread to the concrete bridge.

• Water Meter & Backflow Assembly with Enclosures: 2 at $7,500 each.

Not sure if they are planning on opening a laundromat or spray park on the bridge itself?

• Waterfowl Grazing Control: $4,700

You might as well throw this money in a burn barrel, because whatever they are doing currently on this part of the bike trail downtown ISN’T WORKING!!!!!!

Not to mention how many more millions will we have to endure with change orders? There have been rumors that the Water Reclamation Plant is extremely over budget due to change orders. But hey, we needed a dented up entertainment facility more then clean water.

Why it is important for City of Sioux Falls Employees to live in the city they work for

I have argued at the Charter Revision Commission that city employees (at least directors, managers and first responders like snowplow operators) should reside in our city because of emergency response. I also think you should pay taxes towards the city that pays your wages.

During the below press conference it was mentioned that snowplow drivers were put up in a downtown hotel to be ready for storm cleanup. We would not have had to do that if 1) they all resided in Sioux Falls and 2) used private contractors to assist.

I’ve been told that the city will pickup snowplow drivers in the city limits to assist, so I am assuming the peeps staying at the hotel were probably out-of-towners.

Once again the city argues my point without even realizing it.

It will also be interesting to see the labor costs the city has incurred paying out overtime instead of contracting with private companies (it has been said city operators have been working 12 hour/7 day shifts since the big storm.)

Sioux Falls 6th Street Bridge Project could have been broken up into smaller projects

Some may ask why the city even has an engineering department. Well, for starters they identify projects and determine the best way forward to tackle the project. At least they used to.

Building anything big like a bridge, a swimming pool or an Events Center, you likely would use several subcontractors. The contractor chose to do the bridge project awarded by the council last night on a 6-2 vote (Neitzert and Starr dissenting) will likely have to job out different subcontractors to complete the work that includes demolition, utility work and actually constructing the bridge. The engineering department could have easily broke this project up to make it more appealing to bidders and probably would have saved the city millions.

It wasn’t just the incompetence of the administration and the city council that approved this blindly, it was an utter failure of the Public Works department to NOT take another approach to this to save taxpayers money.

Then there are the questionable and cozy relationships certain contractors have with the city, and that was on full display last night when the council approved this 100% cost overrun with only ONE bid. (Councilors Merkouris and Barranco also changed their votes the last minute I’m assuming to save the Mayor from casting the tie-breaker, which he would have broke and approved).

The precedent set last night by this council and administration was not good and the genie is now fully out of the bottle. Infrastructure projects in Sioux Falls are going to become very, very expensive moving forward.

UPDATE: City of Sioux Falls Engineering Department off 100%+ on cost overrun projections for 6th Street bridge

UPDATE: Here is a copy of the final bid tabulation: 6th Street Bridge

I understand inflation and cost overruns, but I am not certain how you can be off by 100%?

Recently the city had a change order (cost overrun) on the wastewater project for over $500,000 with NO explanation. With the 6th street bridge, the council gets a short email from Public Works Director, Mark Cotter (Click on the attachments for Item #27)

Good Afternoon City Council and City Council Staff,
On December 22, 2022, we bid the 6th Street Downtown Project. The major elements of this project include a new bridge over the Big Sioux River, extensive underground public and private utility work, a large bore through quartzite rock under the railroad tracks to allow for the utilities to cross, and the elements for the future quiet zone/whistle reduction crossing. The project came in significantly over the engineer’s estimate at $21.8M. There are a number of drivers that make this project difficult to estimate:
• Limited bidders – This is a very complex project coupled with fact that there is a significant amount of bridge work in the region and several contractors are full or are nearly full for the year,
• Project access is a challenge and primarily must be built from one side, the east side,
• Limited staging area coupled with risk of high river flows with spring rains/runoff,
• Tight labor market and continued high construction cost inflation,

*The original cost estimate put out for bid was $8,867,228 with it expecting to come in at 12,919,000 (as of 12/22/2022) that bid came in at 100%+ overrun of $21,821,916 with an additional add on of $238K for a steel railing (*Bid tabulation from the SF Public Works Engineering Department).

I get it, cost overruns occur, but maybe the city council needs to be asking Mark Cotter how they can be off by over 100% when inflation last year was around 7%. Something isn’t adding up.

Is the City of Sioux Falls violating ordinance when plowing streets?

It doesn’t fail, when you run a city blog as long as I have, whenever it snows I hear about the removal. I have come to the realization that most people are being nit-picky, but the latest blowback is concerning.

SNOWGATES. By ordinance the city has to use them, unless they decide not to. I know, seems like a pretty big out. During and before the petition drive, Staggers and especially Stehly did extensive research on them, and unless the snow is super wet they work well up to almost 20 inches. The city continues to use a mulligan on them, but they could have been easily used the last two times, which brings us to another problem;

CLEARING INTERSECTIONS. One of the benefits of having snowgates is clearing intersections when the north/south and east/west streets are cleared, instead of creating a massive windrow they can be alleviated immediately.

But one of the glaring problems is this;

Looks like the city is supposed to be clearing snow curb to curb.

I have also heard the city has scaled back on private contractor use. I am not opposed to that, and would rather see city union employees getting the OT instead of a private contractor, but you wonder why this relationship has changed?

Isn’t life so wonderful that the only thing we have to bitch about with local government is how they take the white crap away?

I have often looked at things like public transit and snow removal as basic economic development. When people can safely get to work and make wages that’s a good thing. You kind of wonder how many folks were either terminated or reprimanded during this past storm because they couldn’t make it to work?

Local government is easy. Collect taxes, provide essential services.

Denver, CO sees measurable results from incentivizing E-Bikes

While many people have told me to get off my high-horse about helping low income folks with an E-Bike leasing program, Denver has found that it has measurable results;

Researchers at Portland State University are tracking 65 programs nationwide that are active or that have been approved to help people get on e-bikes, either through subsidies or loaning a bike. California plans to launch a statewide program next year backed by $10 million.

E-bikes, which have a motor and battery to propel riders, can cost about $2,000, putting them out of reach for many low-income families. Denver’s program has two tiers, with one that offers $400 to any city resident — an amount aimed at sweetening the deal for would-be buyers. For low-income residents, the second tier increases the voucher size to $1,200, a sum city officials say should make the bikes more widely affordable.

Two other elements of the program are designed to encourage buyers to use their bikes for transportation: a bonus of $500 for cargo bikes, which can carry children or a large load, while full-suspension mountain bikes used primarily for recreation aren’t eligible.

And after Denver tried this pilot program, guess what they found out;

A city survey found new e-bike riders were riding, on average, 26.2 miles per week, and that low-income buyers were riding about 32 miles per week. Respondents said they had replaced 3.4 car trips each week with bike rides.

“It’s so much faster,” said Rink, who commutes by e-bike. “It’s much less of a chore. There is an element of joy in riding the e-bike.”

I would agree, my main reason I like riding my E-Bike is because it is enjoyable, but if you look at the results of this successful program it is also equitable. I hope the new transportation board in Sioux Falls looks at this.

Denver voters to decide if city pays for sidewalk maintenance

This isn’t something new. When councilor Staggers was still alive we had many discussions about doing a local ballot initiative to force the city to trim the trees in the parking strip and maintain city owned sidewalks abutting private property;

They will get to decide whether to shift the responsibility of maintaining sidewalks from individual property owners to the city. The proposal on next week’s ballot would also impose a tax on property owners, to help maintain the city’s current sidewalks and add them in the many parts of town where they’re missing.

The initiative we discussed was similar. If passed, it would be up to the city council and public works to decide on an additional front assessment fee based on the square footage of your sidewalk and boulevard.

The ballot measure would charge property owners based on how much of their land runs along a street, and what type of street it faces. The measure would include discounts for owners in poorer neighborhoods. Proponents say that a typical family living in a single-family house would pay about $9 a month for the improvements. Of course, people with corner lots, or businesses located downtown, could pay more.

Sioux Falls is littered with bad public sidewalks. I think a better approach is to just have the city fix it and we reimburse the costs through our front assessment.

Marshall surveyed 16 cities last year to see how much information they had about their streets and sidewalks. All of the cities kept meticulous records on where potholes appeared, and they reported being able to fill those within days. But most had no comprehensive information about the conditions of their sidewalks. Washington was the only city that provided an average response time for fixing sidewalks, and it was 270 days, Marshall said.

Kind of sounds familiar. While our pedestrian and biking infrastructure crumbles the city is busy filling potholes that have to be refilled multiple times (instead of just building better roads).

“It’s not sidewalks as the target. It’s improving walkability,” Kraft said. “It’s increasing active transportation. Sidewalks and connected sidewalk networks are a means for getting there.”


I also think new retail businesses in Sioux Falls should be required to put a small bike rack in front of their business. If businesses are required to have so many parking spaces they should also be required to provide bicycle parking.