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Bike tunnel on hold

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
May 8, 2008
— After learning the cost estimate for a pedestrian tunnel under Milwaukee Street had risen to $705,000, City Manager Steve Sheiffer called a halt to the project until alternatives are explored.

In January—the last time the city council voted on the project—the cost was $475,000.


Sheiffer had set aside $160,000 in the 2006 budget to pay for the tunnel, but that was before an engineering analysis, Jack Messer, director of public works, wrote in a memo.


As the engineering design was refined, the cost rose to $625,000, not including $80,000 to move water lines, Messer said.


Messer said he could only point to two additions that weren’t in the previous estimate. The costs are simply higher, he said.


“In the real world, everything is an estimate until you bid it,” Messer said.


Some council members in January balked at the $475,000 price tag and wondered if there weren’t cheaper ways to improve safety where the bike trail crosses the four lanes of Milwaukee Street.


Why, asked Paul Williams, couldn’t residents simply walk a short block to Wright Road and cross there?


And Amy Loasching, who was not on the original council that approved the tunnel, suggested simply canceling the project to pay for other more necessary expenses.


What about installing traffic signals or moving the bike trail? she asked.


Sheiffer said in January that the city had looked at narrowing the street to one lane in each direction with an island in the middle but decided that option would create traffic problems.


The city was set to accept a $235,000 Safe Routes to School grant from the state, and Sheiffer in January asked the council to OK an additional $80,000 to move water lines. That was in addition to the $160,000 set aside in 2006, bringing total funding for the project to $475,000.


Other council members in January worried about turning away a state grant that had been secured by the city’s state representatives.


The council voted 4-2 in January to approve the $80,000 water line expense.


But the city learned recently that the total estimated cost had jumped to $705,000.


Sheiffer, in a cover letter to the council dated May 2, wrote: “At this point in time, given the scale of cost increase and the total cost of this project, I have decided to postpone the project and direct the public works director to develop alternatives to this approach that will provide for pedestrian safety.”


Messer added: “We think it’s an important safety project, but when you’re increasing the cost by that much, I think you have to step back and look at alternatives.”



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