Downtown project cuts considered

Splitting up and scaling back – those are the options that city officials are considering as a way of keeping the downtown enhancement project.

At the conclusion of a two-hour meeting on Monday, the Vandalia City Councils streets/sewers and water/disposal committees agreed to recommend to the full council that the streetscape work and infrastructure improvements be bid separately, and to reduce the scale of that work.

And while it wasnt in the form of a recommendation, those city officials seemed to favor cutting the five-block streetscape project to four and possibly even three blocks.

The idea of separating the two types of downtown improvements and cutting back on the size of the streetscape project came after committee members heard from representatives of HMG Engineers of Carlyle, the citys consulting engineers.

Also participating in Monday nights meeting were Mayor Rick Gottman, City Administrator Jimmy Morani, Vandalia Main Street Program Manager Dana Whiteman and several representatives of the citys Downtown Advisory Committee.

City officials are having to consider options such as cutting back the scale of the improvements after bids for the streetscape and infrastructure project came in more than 50 percent above the engineers estimate of $4.2 million.

Aldermen quickly jumped on engineer Lorne Jacksons recommendation to bid out the water and sewer improvements separately.

Jackson said the city would likely get lower bids for that work if bid separately because it would among other things remove from that facet of the project oversight by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Later in the meeting, again at Jacksons recommendation, city officials agreed to give serious consideration to cutting back on the infrastructure improvements made at this time.

The current plan calls for water, sanitary sewer and storm sewer improvements on Gallatin Street from Third Street to Eighth Street, as well as on the one-block sections north and south of Gallatin.

Jackson said the city could reduce its costs by as much as $400,000 by making the improvements along Gallatin only.

You could do the alleys and side streets later, Jackson said.

Or you could put that (alleys and side streets) in as an alternate bid, added Scott Rakers of HMG. That idea seemed to be well received by city officials.

Jackson also said the city can cut back on the project cost substantially by reducing the number of blocks included in the streetscape facet of the project.

Cutting out the block of Gallatin between Seventh and Eighth streets, Jackson said, would likely shave up to $400,000 off the total cost.

That would be an easy cut to make, he said, because the improvements planned for that block are less than those in the four other blocks.

And while he needs to do more figuring, Jackson said he believes that taking out the block between Sixth and Seventh streets could cut the project cost by up to $1 million.

The streetscape improvements include new sidewalks with brick edging and insets, period street lighting, new trash cans and benches, flowering dogwood trees and the relocation of utility lines underground.

HMG has recommended concrete sidewalks with brick-colored stenciling instead of using brick pavers, saving about $140,000, and not putting in the trash cans and benches at this time, which would save another $60,000.

Alderman Chad Feldpouch was among those noting that such cutbacks are small when considering the overall cost of the project and how much the city needs to cut to make the project fit within its budget.

Feldpouch said hes concerned about the city dedicating too much money to the downtown work, at the risk of hurting other proposed infrastructure improvements in other areas of town.

While he wants to see improvements made to the downtown, Feldpouch said, I dont feel comfortable putting all of our eggs in one basket.

Public Works Director John Moyer expressed a similar concern. We have a number of projects that are on hold because of the money tied to this project.

Feldpouch said that the TEA-21 grants received by the city about nine years ago dont reflect construction cost increases, such as the rising price of petroleum, and asked if the city could ask the state for more funds.

Rakers said another round of federal funds for such work is slated for next year, and that the city could at that point seek additional funds to finish the project to its original scale.

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