Wednesday, February 19, 2014

French Valley Parkway: Government Bureaucracy at its Finest

Government Waste: Do we really need to go through a complex approval process just to change out a few signs and add temporary striping to the right shoulder area?
On Monday, we exposed some potential unnecessary spending relative to Phase I of the French Valley Parkway interchange project. From a field study, we've noticed that some of the temporary infrastructure that will be removed once Phase II commences only a few years later were built as if they were permanent. That includes a concrete retaining wall that wouldn't be necessary had Phase I included the full project grading of the area. But the waste doesn't stop there. Also embarrassing is the costly amount of unnecessary bureaucracy mandated by the state that the City of Temecula has to go through in order to get Phase I fully open to the public.

Keep in mind that officials have been pressured to expedite the full opening of both Phase I and II because of safety on the I-15 freeway. It is now mid-February and the newly constructed Phase I is still not fully operational. The upgraded Winchester ramp opened late in January, but the French Valley Parkway offramp has yet to open. Some of the dangerous driving conditions has subsided, but the long line of stopped vehicles still occurs during peak hours and busy shopping days. So what is holding up the opening of the French Valley Parkway segment? Government bureaucracy and a complex approval process are to blame. According to Assistant City Manager Greg Butler through the Press Enterprise, Caltrans inspected the site. The state agency found that modifications to the signage and additional striping on the right shoulder were needed. Okay, fair enough.

However, the process of getting these simple fixes done is mired in unnecessary red tape, even with the long queue of stopped cars exiting Winchester and the safety hazards that goes with it. The city can't just ask Harris & Associates, the construction firm contracted for Phase I, to change out the non-compliant signs, paint the stripes, and be done with it. According to Butler, the city must first submit plans--even with these minor changes--to Caltrans. Caltrans must inspect those plans. Then, the city can complete Caltrans' request, of which must be inspected again by Caltrans. Do we all see where some of this bureaucracy can be simplified and streamlined? Such unnecessary work adds up to government waste. Worse yet, the highway still has a safety hazard. To be fair, state inspections are absolutely necessary and plans for large-scale projects should be reviewed ahead of time. But for a case like this, here would be an efficient, streamlined approach:
  1. Harris & Associates finishes construction of French Valley Parkway, Phase I.
  2. Harris & Associates requests Caltrans to do a full inspection of the site.
  3. Caltrans inspects and says: Change a few signs and add some additional striping on the right shoulder.
  4. Harris & Associates does as Caltrans says, within a week or less.
  5. An authorized Caltrans official is called over, inspects the changes made, and opens the offramp.
Does that sound reasonable?

French Valley Parkway is a vital infrastructure project, but it should not be mired in such government waste. That's exactly what's happening with California's high speed rail project: Good infrastructure looking bad all due to unnecessary spending and bureaucracy.

Moving forward, the opening of the Phase I southbound French Valley Parkway offramp will help clear a hazardous southbound queue line bottleneck that has contributed toward numerous collisions in the area including a recent fatality and an RTA bus collision a few years ago. But both Phase II and the development of high occupancy vehicle and transit infrastructure will be necessary components to get this region fully moving again safely: The former will redistribute heavy traffic demands and clear the both the northbound and southbound I-15 freeway bottleneck at Winchester Road. The latter will entice more people to rideshare to/from Temecula in both directions. Let's get these projects moving but without the government waste this time!

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