The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

Young-looking engineer gets an earful as council makes point on East Post Road bridge

In Chuck Wieneke, City Hall, Jerry McGrane, Monica Vernon on March 20, 2008 at 6:39 pm

The dust has settled after Wednesday night’s City Council meeting at which the council pounded away, saying they wanted the city’s public works staff to take a different approach to infrastructure projects.

 In short, the council wants the staff to ask a broader set of questions than how much bigger the city might make a road or how more concrete it can pour.

And in particular, the council emphasized in no uncertain terms that it did not want to hear anything more about plans that would replace the East Post Road SE bridge at Indian Creek with something wider than the existing two-lane bridge.

“Stop all talk” about anything other than a two-lane, council member Chuck Wieneke declared.

The city engineering staff as well as consulting engineers have been promoting the addition of a center turn lane on the bridge, which council member Jerry McGrane said wasn’t needed.

“What is needed to keep it pristine,” McGrane said of the scenic East Post Road SE.

Ken DeKeyser, a young-looking engineer in the Public Works Department, was the city staff member at the table Wednesday evening when the pounding came.

On Thursday, Wieneke acknowledged that DeKeyser got an earful.

“But I just wanted to make it clear, not so much for young Ken, but for the leadership in that division as well as the city manager,” Wieneke said. “… I wanted to make it no-doubt clear — Don’t spend one more iota of your work on anything but a two-lane bridge.”

Perhaps, the council “kept beating on it,” Wieneke said, but he added that sometimes in the past the council has not be clear enough about its wishes. “I wanted there to be no doubt.”

It is probably correct that most on the City Council knew last June — the last time the city staff formally sat down with the council, DeKeyser told them — that it, like a formidable group of citizen opponents, did not want a wider East Post Road SE bridge. And they did not want it no matter how many times that the engineers said a wider bridge with a turn lane was needed to make the busy road safe for now and for the 60 to 80 years that the new bridge would need to provide service.

Council member Monica Vernon on Thursday said that sometimes the council should let its “balanced decision-making process” play out more quickly. That process ended Wednesday night when the council insisted on a two-lane bridge with a trail on the west side that is not connected to the bridge proper.

Vernon called it a “landmark” council decision, one which she said sends the signal to the city engineering staff that the city should look at a variety of ways to handle traffic besides “pouring more concrete.”

“You can do it in a beautiful way without upsetting the natural order of things,” she said.

As for DeKeyser, Vernon said he was more an “emissary” and a “messenger” for those higher up on the city staff.

“He was the icon for the old way, perhaps,” Vernon says. “… And, no, I didn’t want to kill him.”

As it would happen, she and DeKeyser – who has been on the city staff 10 years this month — ended up in the same City Hall elevator after the council meeting ended.

Vernon says he and she had a nice chat.

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