Ped tunnel needs walking-around money 

Never let it be said that Missoula residents don’t care about their city trail network, even a mere 53-meter stretch of it.

Members of the Riverfront Neighborhood Council have raised concerns that plans to build a pedestrian underpass beneath the soon-to-be-constructed Orange Street bridge may have to be scrapped because the latest cost estimate on the project is substantially higher than was originally projected.

According to Geoff Badenoch, director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency (MRA), estimates on the tunnel project provided by Bodell Construction last week are running in excess of $350,000, considerably higher than the $225,000 originally estimated by the project’s first designer, DJA, and still more than the $300,000 Badenoch says the city could come up with for the modification to the original design. Bodell Construction is the company now building the new Orange Street bridge.

The pedestrian tunnel first drew the attention of the Riverfront Neighborhood Council last year when some area residents became aware that the design plans called for back-filling the section of trail that was once the old train bed running underneath Orange Street. In September 1999, an ad hoc committee was formed to find a way of keeping that section of trail open.

“Everybody sort of assumed that that trail would remain open,” says Lane Coddington of the Riverfront Neighborhood Council. “There were public meetings when the bridge was designed, but public meetings for bridge designs aren’t very well-attended. So to save money, they just left it out.”

The project drew the attention of other neighborhood councils, members of City Council, the Mayor’s office and the Community Forum, a body made up of representatives from all 16 neighborhood councils, most of whom expressed support for the pedestrian tunnel. Until recently, everyone thought the tunnel was a done deal.

The problem now, says Badenoch, is that with construction underway, additional money will have to be found soon, either through other sources or by cutting expenses; otherwise the tunnel will have to be scuttled.

“We’re going to have know in fairly short order, because once they start construction on the bridge itself, it’s not something they can go back and do later,” says Badenoch. “You’ve got one chance to do it and if it’s not something we can do now, it won’t be done.”

Badenoch says that the higher cost is no fault of Bodell, but the result of construction specifications made by the manufacturer of the pipe to be used as the tunnel. Funding for both the tunnel and the bridge, which will total about $7 million, is coming from a variety of sources, including the MRA, the Montana Department of Transportation, and the federal government via the Community Transportation Enhancement Program and the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program.

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