Was Lawton’s Seriously Flawed Road Project A Smoke Screen?
There's an old saying in life that says there's no such thing as a free puppy. I didn't grow up with pets, so I heard it for the first time as an adult. Even though I'm still pet-less, the sentiment helps clarify all sorts of situations in life. In this instance residents got a new free road, and in turn, it only cost them their curbs.
Months ago we received a visit from one of our local elected officials. Critter and I take pride in being part of the only media outlet in Southwest Oklahoma that refuses to bury our heads in the sand when shenanigans are afoot, this top-tier politician takes issue with that.
I'll be honest with you, I don't even remember what the conversation was specifically about, but it was around the same time the city funneled some of our roads money to reinforce the struggling mall/FISTA project. While we revolted, it is a project that cannot fail. Too much has been spent on it to just cast it aside just yet... but that's another story for another time.
"What can I do to get you guys to write about the positive things the government does?" was his first question during the visit and the answer was simple and straightforward... Kill our rebellious spirit with positive results.
Naturally, he explained that results don't happen quickly, especially when there's bureaucratic tape to navigate. "These things take time" he replied, and nobody is arguing that. Government naturally moves at the speed of smell.
Skip forward to Summer 2022, things are supposed to be on the up. The City of Lawton is flush with cash. There's infighting over projects and a major attempt to hide this cash from the public view. In an attempt to hide a metaphorical card up their sleeve, a quick and dirty city road project was started and completed in just about one week.
That should be great news, but residents aren't exactly happy with the outcome. The razzle-dazzle is "We built you a new road," but the banana in the tailpipe came with building this road as cheaply and quickly as possible.
Instead of tearing out the old in order to lay the new, crews were instructed to just lay the new roadbed directly over the old section of Ferris Avenue that runs between 2nd Street and Fort Sill Boulevard. Much like tossing ice cubes into a full glass, the road now exceeds every road and driveway around it and the residents have now lost their curbs.
It's important to note here that the boys in blue shirts that did the work aren't to blame here. I've talked with half a dozen of them and they all shared the same sentiment... It was the wrong way to do it and none of them are happy with the end result.
Out of each driveway and every connecting numbered street, there's now a veritable speedbump each vehicle must traverse just to enter the roadway, but they're really unhappy about those shrunken curbs. In some sections, the road literally just turns into the grass on some poor souls' front lawn.
Even worse, it's going to make the already ancient and nearly-derelict stormwater collection system on that mile practically non-existent. One of the collection sumps is, and we measured this, a giant eleven-inch hole in the road with exposed reinforcing steel.
This project was so hastily thrown together with such an obvious emphasis to cut costs and corners, it has everyone wondering "What is our city council and mayors office trying to hide?"
Now I don't have a smoking gun to share with you, but there are some things that add up to a logical thought process here.
Lawton currently has around $10million in extra cash laying around after not using all of the covid releif funds and every elected official is dreaming of seeing their pet-projects through.
The city manager has made a recommendation that these funds should be used for beneficial projects like roads and stormwater abatement, pushing the sewer rehab forward, even a suggestion that would instantly cut the cities electric bill in half but your elected officials won't hear any of that.
Instead, this money is being pushed through to fund the Elmer Thomas Park sports complex that the citizenry has vocally been opposed to since it was announced. It's not a bad idea, but it's not the right time for such a project when so many other things are literally falling apart in the neighborhoods our officials don't visit.
So why rebuild Ferris Avenue?
I can't decide if this was a project to push out some quick results that were supposed to distract people from this $10million windfall... fail... or if the roadbed of Ferris needed reinforcement due to the expected increased construction traffic for this sports complex that's being secretly pushed through.
"It doesn't need to be good, it just needs to hold up..." Probably
Even though each politician probably only feels a responsibility to address this with the few people that actually vote in our local elections, I think every Lawton citizen deserves answers on this.