The Montana Contractors' Association is calling upon Missoula officials to shelve their planned purchase of a new asphalt paver—a roughly $250,000 expense—until the city demonstrates that it can perform infrastructure projects more efficiently than private enterprise.
"They have yet to produce one shred of data or analysis," says Cary Hegreberg, executive director of the Montana Contractors' Association, which represents roughly 300 members. "That's what we're asking for."
On Oct. 22, Hegreberg wrote a sharply worded letter to Missoula Mayor John Engen that cited the city's paving last summer of the Rattlesnake/University Crossing Trail, better known as RUX, as one example of a botched project. The city's work had to be repaved because it didn't meet state or local specifications, Hegreberg says.
"The city is plowing ahead with blinders on," the letter states, "as if the RUX project had never showcased the City's waste of tax dollars and as if private construction firms in the Missoula community were totally irrelevant."
The city has said that private contractors who prepped the path prior to municipal paving caused the trail's problems, while estimating labor expenses associated with the repairs at $1,500. Amid the finger pointing, Hegreberg asserts that taxpayers are simply better served in such situations by private contractors, in part because they must post a bond before launching an infrastructure project. That means there's a pot of money reserved to fix faulty work. When something goes awry with a city installation, however, taxpayers foot the bill.
In response to Hegreberg's claims, Engen notes that during the past 10 years the city has spent roughly $40 million on capital projects, with municipal staff performing $1 million worth of paving projects. Given those numbers and his belief that problems like RUX are uncommon, Engen says Hegreberg's arguments haven't persuaded him to change the city's approach. He adds that the city will not conduct the in-depth analysis that the contractors requested.
"Frankly," Engen says, "we don't think it's necessary."
As for the asphalt paving machine, the city has every intention of purchasing it. Engen says it will replace existing equipment and enable municipal staffers to do small jobs and quick repairs when contractors might be busy.
"This is a tool that we use," Engen says, "and we're not likely to stop using it anytime soon."