The long-awaited pedestrian bridge over I-40 in Durham that represents the last link in the 22-mile American Tobacco Trail — the link that was supposed to begin construction later this summer and open next year — has been derailed.
Turns out the project will cost about $2 million more than Durham anticipated, $2 million that the city must now try to come up with in a period of extreme cutbacks in across-the-board government spending.
Durham had allotted $5.8 million for the project, which includes the bridge and 4.2 miles of trail, from N.C 54 south to the Chatham County line. But when bids from eight contractors were opened on July 15, the lowest, from Blythe Construction, was $7.75 million.
Asked about the discrepancy – why Durham’s estimate was so far off the mark — project manager Byron Brady said the bid package, which was advertised beginning in April, was put together by a consultant. Yet even as far back as 2007, Durham acknowledged the project could cost as much as $6.3 million.
As for what funding options the city might have, Brady said, “I’m not at liberty to say.”
Dale McKeel, Durham’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator, was likewise mum: “We are looking at several options. There are no dead ends at this point.”
One place they won’t be getting additional money is from the N.C. Department of Transportation, which is already into the project – known as Phase E of the American Tobacco Trail – for $4.7 million.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have any money to add to the project,” said Kumar Trivedi, interim director of NCDOT’s Division of Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation. “We have some money, but it’s already being spent on existing projects.”
Trivedi said he suggested that Durham look into TIGER grants — transportation-specific money available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — and check with DOT’s local programs branch for TIP enhancement projects.
One possibility Durham will consider is what it might be able to do with the $5.8 million it does have. Brady and McKeel would only say that’s a possibility; Dave Connelly with the Triangle Rails-to-Trails Conservancy had a couple of thoughts on the matter.
“We discussed this very question Monday night at the TRTC meeting,” said Connelly, a longtime member of the non-profit. “Since the southern half of this project (the abandoned rail bed) is already good enough to use, it would seem logical to focus new construction work at the north end (NC 54/I-40) and proceed south until the money runs out.
“But,” he’s quick to add, “all the permissions were painstakingly obtained for the complete 4-mile project, and making any changes would likely require new signatures, an agonizing process.”
Determined not to be deterred, Connelly has suggested a funding alternative to Durham, an alternative that may not be as far-fetched as it seems in these days of political parsimony.
“I wonder if the City could set up a charitable fund and allow donations to ‘bridge the gap’ in this project funding. Since 3,038 people have signed a 2006 online petition
, at least some of them could put their money where their mouth is.”