It’s going to cost a lot more than $2.5 million for the city to reconfigure Exit 1 on Interstate 75.
Friday afternoon, during a special called meeting of the East Ridge City Council, City Manager Scott Miller told the council that a construction estimate by the project engineer placed the cost of building a new exit leading directly into Camp Jordan Park and Jordan Crossing will be almost $4.7 million.
“It’s imperative that we get this moving so it can be finished by Thanksgiving,” Miller said.
Miller proposed that the city fund the shortfall via a $2.5 million bond issue through the Tennessee Municipal Bond Fund. The annual debt would be paid off through Border Region sales tax revenue.
The council voted 4-0 (Vice Mayor Larry Sewell was out of town) to do just that.
Miller wrote in a memorandum to the council that one of the requirements of the TDOT grant the city received for the reconfiguration of the exit was that the city submit a construction estimate cost. That estimate was prepared by Vaughn & Melton, the project engineers.
The memo detailed financing that is currently committed to the project: $1.5 million from TDOT, $500,000 from Hamilton County and $500,000 from the City of East Ridge. The total of $2.5 million leaves the city about $2.158 million short. In addition, work on a sewer line underneath the proposed northbound entrance ramp will have to be addressed. The price tag on this item is between $250,000 and $300,000, he said.
Miller said that having TDOT and the federal government involved in the project created much red tape and bureaucracy that has slowed down the process. He said that the city could try and reduce the cost of the project by doing “value engineering,” essentially finding ways to save costs within the project. If value engineering is pursued there is no guarantee of savings but a certainty that the ponderous bureaucratic process would start over from the beginning, delaying the project, he said.
Once TDOT signs off on the construction estimate, the city will put the project out to bid, Miller said. The bidding would be advertised for three weeks and the contractor awarded the project by July, pending TDOT approval, Miller said.
“We could be getting ready to turn dirt and start by the middle to end of August,” he said.
Miller pointed out that if the project was delayed by trying to cut costs through value engineering, construction would be pushed back into the beginning of 2018. Miller said he was just not “comfortable” pursuing that option.
The city would initially tap into its $5 million fund balance to help cover costs of the project.
“We can afford this project with Border Region tax dollars,” Miller said.
However, he suggested scaling back or eliminating other projects earmarked using Border Region tax dollars, including the beautification project along Ringgold Road.
“There’s only so much money coming in from the Border Region,” he said.
Mayor Brent Lambert reminded the council that it took nine months for the federal government to sign off on the project.
During the Communication from Citizens portion of the meeting, Laura Mathis said that she had received an email from a woman wanting to know why a special meeting was necessary and why it had to take place when most citizens were working and couldn’t attend.
Mayor Lambert said that the meeting was necessary due to “the pressing nature” of the Exit 1 construction.
“If we waited another week, that’s another week we would lose on the project,” he said.