council agrees to bridge funding for belmont bridge

(This article originally appeared as a segment in the May 18, 2021 edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement)

The main event at Council’s meeting on May 17, 2021 was direction to proceed with a plan to use millions of funding from the Virginia Department of Transportation to cover another cost overrun for the long-planned Belmont Bridge replacement. The project was put out for construction bids in February with a $31 million cost estimate. According to the city’s Urban Construction Initiative manager Jeanette Janiczek, that wasn’t enough money. 

“The lowest responsive, responsible bid can be awarded with existing project funds, however there is a need for additional funding, $4.2 million, to cover contingency, construction inspection services, VDOT oversight, as well as utility relocation,” Janiczek said. 

VDOT has suggested adding funds from its bridge maintenance account, something referred to as State of Good Repair. Janiczek said possible reasons for the higher estimate include inflation, increases in material costs, and potential issues related to the pandemic.

Janiczek said one choice would have been to remove items from the project, such as a pedestrian tunnel on the southern end. 

“Any of these options would result in us having to rebid the project,” Janiczek said. “This adds at least a year in time but most importantly it doesn’t fulfil the commitments we’ve made to the public as well as the Board of Architectural Review.” 

Janiczek if the appropriation of the VDOT goes forward in June, construction could begin this summer. Another public meeting will be held when the contractor is hired to explain how traffic will continue to use the bridge during construction. 

“So once they submit their baseline schedule, we’ll release that to the public and let people know what to expect during construction,” Janiczek said. 

Asked by Council if the project costs could increase, Janiczek said many of the prices for materials would be locked in as soon as the construction contract begins. 

City Manager Chip Boyles said he thought construction costs would increase as the federal government prepares to make billions of investments in infrastructure projects. That’s why he r

“If this project is delayed, we’re already seeing very substantial inflationary projections into the near future,” Boyles said. “If President Biden’s infrastructure package that is in Congress is approved, you will see multiple fold of capital projects underway. If this had to be rebid, I would say that we would end up with less product and at least the same amount or more of the cost.” 

The second reading of the appropriation will be on the consent agenda for Council’s June 7 meeting. They’ll next meet on May 25 to have a work session on the 7th Street Parking garage followed by a May 26 joint meeting with the city School Board on the reconfiguration of the city’s middle schools. 

Council adjourned their meeting before 8 p.m. something that newcomers to city government should never ever expect. 

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