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Article Title: Council Stays Course on Pioneer Street BridgeEdition: January 2001
Category: City Government
Author: William Fraser, City Manager
As has been widely reported, the City Council decided on November 21, 2000 to continue with plans to replace the existing Pioneer Street Bridge with a new structure. The existing Truss Bridge will be moved to the new bike path slated to be built in 2002.
This action was consistent with previous Council decisions made on July 12, 1995, August 13, 1997, March 11, 1998 and August 11, 1999 but in conflict with three advisory ballot vote results in recent years.
Since 1995, the City Council (including 2 different Mayors and 11 different council members) has carefully deliberated this issue on at least 18 occasions and taken the citizen's votes into respectful consideration. Several factors have contributed to the continued conclusion that the city's interests are best served by replacing the bridge.
Issues discussed at length over these five years have included traffic volume, the diversion of truck traffic from downtown, the width of the bridge and Barre Street development issues. Many of these are subject to preferences, opinions and perceptions and are not as quantifiable as finances. That also means that public statement and representations can be subject to personal interpretations.
One example of this ambiguity is the claim that the present bridge is not wide enough to meet acceptable standards while others claim that the present bridge does meet the regulatory standards. The answer is that both answers are correct. Based on the traffic use at that area, standards call for a minimum 26-foot wide bridge. This would seem to eliminate the existing 20-foot wide truss. State standards also allow, however, for the continued use of existing bridges. As you can see, then, the bridge width can be interpreted through two different angles. It becomes the council's decision to determine the safest width for the projected use.
Finances have also played a large role in the debate. Letters and promotional material published before the November election asserted that the Truss Bridge project "would save the state/federal funds $1.2 million and the city would save $220,000" (letter from S. Vitzthum in November Bridge). After the vote was held, the City of Bridges Committee requested some specific financial information from me. The following is directly excerpted from my reply to them which was shared with the city council:
1 - What are the construction costs for each option including bridge and approaches?The truss rehabilitation project, in 1995 estimates is $2,482,000. This is broken out at $1,545,957 for the structure (which has a 0% local share) and $936,043 for the approach (which has a 10% local share or $93,604).
The new bridge, based on the Agency of Transportation's 1999 estimate, is $2,518,000 (again this is higher than the $2,424,000 number quoted on October 24, 2000). This is broken out at $1,860,316 for the structure and $657, 684 for the approach (all costs require a 10% local share for a total of $251,800).
2 - What are the future maintenance costs for each option?Both projects are estimated to have a 75 year life although documents in the file warn that the truss rehabilitation may fail in as early as 40 years. A truss bridge will require a full painting job every 25 years. In current dollars this is estimated to cost $150,000 per occasion. In a 75 year life cycle, this will occur twice -- at 25 and 50 years. This $300,000 will come from public money -- some combination of federal, state and/or local.
Under current policy, the painting costs for the truss bridge will be fully assumed (100%) by the state. If this policy remains in place and future legislatures provide adequate funding for the program, maintenance costs for both projects can be considered comparable or even. Other routine and regular maintenance is assumed to be approximately the same on each project. I will note that the standards for obtaining the 100% paint funding require a specified level of maintenance effort from communities which may exceed that which would be required for the new bridge. Since we are not able to quantify those costs, however, we will not count them in this equation.
3 - What are the other expenses for each option?For the truss bridge option the following have been identified as potential additional costs;
Engineering and project expenses to date.On August 11, 1999, Agency of Transportation (A.O.T.) Secretary Brian Searles wrote "We will, therefore, require the City reimburse the State for the total preliminary engineering costs to date if the City would like to pursue a rehabilitation at this site". This is consistent with the Finance and Maintenance agreement between the city and A.O.T. for this project. This was reiterated in an October 17, 2000 letter from David J. Scott, A.O.T. Director of Project Management. Mr Scott wrote, "As also discussed we would return to step one in the development of the project and the City would have to pay all engineering costs to date." The October 24, 2000 letter to Mr. Frothingham lists these costs at $215,000 although it is likely that they have grown since design and project development work is ongoing.
Right of way acquisition.These costs are included within the estimates provided earlier. The recently approved right of way acquisition costs for the new bridge project were $59,100 of which 10% or $5,910 was the city's share.
Bike path.If the Pioneer Street Bridge is rehabilitated in place, it will not be available for use on the bike path as currently planned. As such, a new bridge will need to be designed and installed. As comparison, the new bridge on the Winooski West bike path cost $305,000 with a 10% local share or $30,500. Correspondence in the file from Tony Redington (based on a DuBois & King document) indicates that the cost of relocating and rehabilitating the Pioneer Street Bridge to the bike path is estimated at $500,000. Under a current agreement, the state will pay 100% of these costs so there will be no local share. Truss bridges on bike paths also require painting although not as extensively nor as frequently since they do not get heavier vehicle use or salting. We estimate that one $100,000 paint job may be necessary during the 75 year life cycle being considered. It is not clear whether this cost is eligible under the state maintenance program or not, to be safe I am carrying it as a full city cost.
Interim repair.Inspection reports of the Pioneer Street Bridge done in 2000 and discussions with Agency of Transportation officials indicate that the bridge will be recommended for full closure unless either the reconstruction project begins or significant interim repairs are performed. Based on the scope and severity of the problems, it is estimated that such interim repair will cost $100,000 in early 2001. Since a rehabilitation will not realistically be ready to begin until at least 2003 and as late as 2005, this repair will be essential unless the council chooses to leave the bridge closed. This cost is a 100% city share.
Railroad Crossing.The city is aware that you have raised issues concerning the railroad crossing. To date we have received no information that any changes will be required or if any significant costs will be associated with this.
Utilities.The city has received information that some private entities such as Green Mountain Power and Verizon may have incurred costs in relocating facilities to accommodate this project. We have contacted those companies and asked them for any relevant information and costs but, to date, have not received any definitive information.
4 - What are the savings that could be realized from adopting either option?By combining all the costs detailed above, the Truss rehabilitation project totals to $3,102,000 with total local costs of $439,104. The New bridge project totals to $3,018,000 with total local costs of $251,800. I'll note again that the Truss project costs are based on 1995 preliminary estimates which are likely to be low. Additionally, these preliminary truss costs are being compared to a much more fully developed new bridge project. Using these numbers, though, it appears that the new bridge project is slightly less expensive ($84,000 or 2.8%) in total than rehabilitation and considerably less expensive in immediate local costs ($187,304 or 75%).
Over the longer term, the only variable is painting costs and state funding levels. My estimates show $300,000 in future painting costs for the rehab option and $100,000 for the truss at the bike path. This brings the project totals to 3.402 million for rehab and 3.118 million for the new bridge. If we assume that the bike path painting is 100% local share than the net savings in local costs drops to $87,304 or 25%) in 50 years. This also assumes that the state continues to fully fund and support the painting program for at least 50 years. It would actually be less expensive for both the city and state in the long run to build both a new bridge as well as a new bike path bridge and not re-use the Pioneer Street Bridge at all.
It is obvious that these figures, all supported by file information and not including unknown costs such as the utilities, are not consistent with printed advocacy statements that the rehabilitation option was one million dollars cheaper and would result in local share savings of over two hundred thousand dollars.
5 - How much will it cost to redesign the project to rehabilitate the bridge?I do not know the answer to this question. As mentioned earlier, Council direction has been clear and consistent to fully pursue the new bridge project. The city has spent no time, effort or money in developing any costs for the truss option. Given the council's two votes in 1999, it is their decision whether to solicit independent cost estimates from engineering firms. It will also be their decision whether additional meetings to review cost data are warranted.
Its noteworthy, though, that the project would not be "redesigned". They are two entirely different projects with different road geometry, right of way requirements and other unique aspects. If the council were to select the truss option now, we would simply close out the current project and begin a new rehabilitation project from scratch. All related "redesign" costs that I am aware of are included in the costs listed earlier in this letter.
Generally speaking, the city prefers to manage projects ourselves. Even under this scenario, our realistic experience tells us that we are not likely to bring a rehabilitation project through permitting, design and bidding to construction any earlier than spring of 2003.
In closing, I'll note that the above letter certainly does not address all issues related to the bridge. It does, however, demonstrate the level of analysis that was been applied to this complicated matter. It may also help to demonstrate that using certain facts and information outside of the context of the whole can present a seemingly different scenario.
The bottom line is that, regardless of the numbers, standards, designs, etc, some people simply prefer one option over the other. As I mentioned earlier, 2 Mayors and 11 City Council Members have considered the matter and participated in extensive debate and deliberation over the last 5 years. After reviewing all the evidence and information, 10 of those elected officials have concluded that the new bridge is the better choice for Montpelier while 3 have concluded that the Truss bridge is more advantageous.
I do not expect that this will make supporters of the truss bridge any happier but I hope that it provides some explanation of the reasoning behind the council's decision making
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