Work on Town Park pedestrian bridge begins

Amid controversy regarding cost overruns and doubts that, in a down economy with reduced sales tax revenues, money would be available for completion, the Town Park pedestrian bridge project was started this week — four months later than originally planned.

Despite being the only capital improvement item budgeted for by the Town of Pagosa Springs for 2009, the pedestrian bridge nearly flatlined this year as increasing economic woes threatened to derail the project.

In a report presented to Town Council during a work session Feb. 17, town manager David Mitchem stated that, if faced with a 25-30 percent reduction in the budget due to a dramatic decrease in sales tax revenues, the town would be forced to take out a $200,000 loan to meet expenses, should council continue with the bridge project.

On the heels of Mitchem’s report, town construction manager Torry Hessman further illustrated the dilemma for council, explaining that, if council decided not to move forward with the project, the town risked losing a $110,000 Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) grant awarded to help fund the project. Furthermore, since the town had already purchased the bridge — at a price tag of over $159,000 — and was almost $200,000 into the project, not proceeding with the project could potentially increase costs for the bridge.

Aside from risking higher costs from a revised bidding process — current bids were considered rock-bottom due to local economic pressures — costs for storing and maintaining the bridge itself, as it sat idling, would also potentially increase overall project expenses.

“If we hold off a year,” Hessman said, “I think we’ll end up paying more.”

Finally, with a second CDOT grant for the project pending, Hessman expressed concern for the town’s reputation with CDOT, that vacillating on the project and returning previously awarded grants could sabotage future chances for further CDOT funding.

Mitchem agreed, stating that holding off on construction with hopes that the second CDOT grant would supplement funding would possibly compromise the project timeline enough to delay the project well beyond target deadlines.

“It’s safer to get a short-term loan. It’s our best judgement that it’s highly risky to wait until March 16 (the CDOT grant award date).”

Fortunately, two days later, at the Feb. 19 council meeting, Hart Construction (contractor on the project) agreed to extend the project over two years, should the town not get the grant, or complete the project as planned with a grant award. With a unanimous vote, council approved moving forward with construction of the bridge as proposed.

Residents of San Juan and Hermosa streets will notice an influx of construction traffic this week as equipment and workers are mobilized for project construction. According to Hessman, initial work on the bridge begins this week, in preparation for major construction which should begin starting March 16. For the moment, however, aside from increased construction traffic, local residents should notice only the removal of several trees near the Mounted Ranger station on San Juan Street as crews prepare for access to the river and eventual installation of the bridge.

Hessman said, “Construction could stretch into early June,” adding that progress on the work is “weather related.”

If the weather holds, crews will begin putting abutments in the river that will eventually anchor the pedestrian bridge. All things considered, Hessman is optimistic that construction will proceed smoothly.

“With the timing of the construction and the way the weather is holding, we should be able to get the abutments in the river before spring runoff,” Hessman said.

Installation of the abutments is expected to take about a month.

Along with construction on the bridge itself, sidewalks will tie in heretofore disparate ends of the town trail system. Integral to that system, the project will literally bridge elements of the system that had been disconnected. With completion of the Town Park pedestrian bridge, the notorious “Trail to Nowhere” will finally tie eastern parts of the trail system, as well as the Reservoir Hill system, to what exists of the downtown trail system. Hopefully, local residents will begin to feel that the trail — and the town — is finally going somewhere.

jim@pagosasun.com