Fundraisers planned to help with rail-trail costs

 

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SPRINGFIELD — Construction bids for the first phase of the 24.5-mile Kickapoo Rail Trail came in about $400,000 over estimates Friday, sending organizers back to the drawing board and threatening plans to begin construction this spring.

Five contractors bid on the 6.7-mile segment paralleling U.S. 150 between Urbana and St. Joseph, but all of the bids were well above the $2.4 million engineering estimate, said Dan Olson, executive director of the Champaign County Forest Preserve District.

The low bid, from Cross Construction of Urbana, was $2.74 million. Three of the bids were for more than $3 million, with the highest at $3.2 million.

"We had quite a few people look at that cost estimate of $2.4 million and a lot of people felt comfortable that that was a very good estimate," Olson said. "But there were a lot of road projects that were on this January bidding around the state and that might have had an impact."

Options now, he said, include scaling back the first phase of the project or trying to obtain more grant or private funding. But there's only a short window of time.

"We have about two weeks to work out alternatives with IDOT," he said. "If we get to the point where we feel we can accept the bid, we can work with IDOT and the construction company to look at change orders or maybe reducing the scope of something. Our hope is that somebody comes to us with a check and then we don't have to reduce much of anything, but in two weeks we either accept or not accept.

"It's a big gap but it's not something that isn't doable with some very creative thinking. We're also looking at one more grant, and you remember that we still have an outstanding bike grant that is a state-issued grant that was frozen a while ago. There's $200,000 there. So we're not down and out yet."

It's another setback for a rail trail project, proposed to link Urbana with the west side of Danville, that's been around for more than 20 years.

Earlier this month, IDOT scrubbed a 3.3-mile Vermilion County segment of the rail trail from Friday's bid openings because of the state budget impasse, which has made Department of Natural Resources funding for the project unavailable.

"The Vermilion side could be back on the docket in March, if the state budget stalemate is resolved by then," Olson said.

Olson said he planned to meet Tuesday with forest preserve district staff members, and eventually with foundation board members, IDOT representatives and contractors to discuss the next step.

"But I can tell you now that we're not going to compromise on any of the materials or on the design," he said. "One of our options might be to shorten the construction of the trail, and maybe not go as far. But it may be premature to say that until we get everybody in the room.

"This is not uncommon for trail systems. A lot of times they're built in half-mile stretches at a time. And we still have several construction phases to go to get the whole 24 miles done. It's not something we didn't see coming but it would have been nicer to build long stretches when you can."

Forest preserve district officials had hoped to begin work on the project, which has a 150-working day estimate, in April. Now, even a 2016 start is uncertain.

"Unfortunately, I don't have the last say in that. That would be our board of commissioners and IDOT," Olson said. "But I'd say that we're pulling out all the stops and can use all the help we can get. This has been a very lengthy process already, and the longer we wait, the more costly this project becomes and the more permits we have to apply for. So we would very much like to see construction in the ground this year."

Also Friday, the Boulder, Colo.-based group People for Bikes announced that it had awarded a $10,000 grant to the Champaign County Forest Preserve Friends Foundation to aid in construction of the trail.

"The timing for this grant could not be better," said Dan Noel, president of the foundation. "Thank you to People for Bikes for helping move this project from fundraising to the construction stage."

Columnist

Tom Kacich is a columnist and the author of Tom's Mailbag at The News-Gazette. His column appears Sundays. His email is tkacich@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@tkacich).

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