Thursday, September 27, 2012
Several transportation improvement projects planned for the town of Signal Mountain are running into unexpected problems before even getting off the ground.
A bike/pedestrian path proposed to span Taft Highway from Rolling Way to Albert Road might have to wait until at least 2014 before it can be constructed. It was originally slated for completion in 2013, but preliminary engineering has determined that original cost estimates — and therefore funding — were not high enough.
The project is being primarily funded through money allocated from the state as a part of transportation improvement project grants, with the town responsible for 20 percent of the overall cost. Originally budgeted at roughly $100,000, engineering costs are turning out to be almost as much as the entire project’s estimated cost, according to Town Manager Honna Rogers.
“The estimate [for the bike/ped path] was off because we did not anticipate the drainage issues [on Taft Highway],” she explained. “[Controlling the water flow] is not a really hard thing to do, it’s just a costly thing to do.”
Related engineering, including technical drawings, public input meetings and the bidding process, can begin in the current TIP cycle with the existing funds. But that doesn’t mean construction will be funded, as a certain amount of money’s already been allocated for that.
“If we’ve already got all the engineering done … I’d be shocked if they didn’t include construction in the next phasing,” Rogers said.
“We could go back and say the project ran over $10,000; $20,000; or $30,000, but we can’t go back and say the project tripled [in cost],” she added. “It’s basically a new project.”
New engineering costs alone are estimated at $70,000, of which the town would be responsible for $14,000.
“We’d spend $14,000 initially for a project they may not even consider,” mused Councilman Dick Gee. “It’s not practical. It doesn’t make sense to me.”
It is still unclear whether the town will proceed with that project. But with the money already budgeted for it being freed up in this TIP cycle, Rogers said it’s a good possibility the town’s other two projects slated for funding this time around will be fully covered, even though they are coming in at higher than anticipated costs as well.
Those projects include improvements to the sidewalks throughout Old Town to bring them up to Americans with Disabilities Act-mandated standards for accessible design, and repairing and repaving the section of James Boulevard where rotting, embedded rail ties are causing the roadway to deteriorate.
“Where we’re running into problems with the James Boulevard and sidewalk rehab is we have to have [an engineer] on-site at all times, even if we’re just sweeping the sidewalk,” Rogers said, citing a new federal requirement that came out of ARRA. The projects were applied for prior to ARRA being enacted.
“For those projects that’s running $40,000 to $50,000,” she continued. “There’s basically no way to know whether we’re going to get an 80-percent match for that $40,000 to $50,000. But these are half-million-dollar projects; I wouldn’t lose them over $50,000. If we don’t obligate this money within the next four months, I’m scared we’re going to lose the money. It’s possible we won’t run over even with [the new mandate].”
It still remains to be seen whether or not the sidewalks in Old Town even qualify for the TIP grant. To qualify, a project must be on a road that is considered a “collector,” meaning it is highly trafficked. Rogers said the local Transportation Planning Organization office, which acts as a pass-through for the grant money, has said the sidewalk improvements could be done under the grant, but there are still some questions at the state level as to whether or not the project will qualify. Regardless, Rogers said the sidewalks are a priority for the Council, as they must be brought up to ADA standards.
“I hear a lot of people talking to me about wanting more sidewalks,” she said. “I think you would have more usage [of sidewalks] in that neighborhood [if they were repaired].”
James Boulevard remains the town’s priority for the current TIP cycle. Rail ties there originally put in place to support the old trolley tracks that crisscrossed the neighborhood are no longer needed, but some residents would like to see their historic value preserved, while others are calling for their complete removal. A possibility of a compromise might come about in the form of preserving the tracks somewhere other than in the roadway, possibly via a historical marker to be built nearby showcasing a portion of the ties. A meeting involving this discussion will be announced at a later date.
As applied for, the grant is meant to cover taking the ties out, replacing the concrete and then laying the ties back down on top of the roadway, Rogers noted.