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Main Avenue project could be delayed

A concept drawing provided by Ulteig Engineers shows what the completed Park Rapids Main Avenue construction project will look like. Final construction plans were approved Tuesday. (Source: Ulteig Engineers)1 / 2
The Main Avenue downtown reconstruction will have different textures and colors of concrete. (Source: Ulteig Engineers)2 / 2

A holdup with federal funding could significantly delay the Park Rapids Main Avenue project slated for this summer.

"We've learned from the (Sen. Amy) Klobuchar bill that we did receive some financing through an appropriation bill," said city engineer Jon Olson. "Unfortunately we were having a tough time determining where that money was going to be coming from."

Olson told the Park Rapids City Council Tuesday the $730,500 in federal money allotted for Main Avenue will be funneled to the city through the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

"With MnDOT handling the money, we have to follow the state federal aid process," he said. "Being that we're a community of less than 5,000 people we are going to need to have Hubbard County sponsor the city."

He has begun meeting with county officials, he said.

The construction start date could be pushed back to June or even August, which could require breaking the project into two phases and completing it in 2011.

MnDOT's requirements include submitting a project memorandum to the state. The project memorandum is a document required in the preliminary stages of a project that is receiving federal funding, Olson said. It touches on critical environmental components, Olson said.

"Unfortunately, that process does take some time," Olson said.

They are allowed 30 days to review the project.

"That puts us in the four to six week range for the completion of the project memorandum," Olson said. "We are doing everything we can to expedite that but being a government entity they do have their 30 day review period and it's challenging to get around that."

Following the completion of the project memorandum, the construction plans will be submitted to the state for review.

"What they'll be reviewing it for is to make sure it's up to their state aid design standards," Olson said.

With the center and diagonal parking, Park Rapids will automatically not fall under that category. The city will need to apply for a variance, Olson said.

"It sounds like it's very doable," he said.

That plan review can be another four to six weeks, though.

"The last hiccup with the state funding is that we don't actually know where the money's at right now," Olson said. "We can't (advertise for bids) for the project until the state has money in hand and they don't at this point. They don't know where the money is at or when it will be dispersed to them. We have a little uncertainty as to when that will take place."

If the city doesn't go through this process, it won't be eligible for the funds.

"This is the traditional state aid process," Olson said. "We are actively trying to apply for some exemptions to expedite the process."

But at this point, he said everyone he's talked to said that never happens.

"If everything goes perfect ... with the memorandum review and plan review ... we won't be able to advertise or open bids until May 1," he said.

That would push construction back into June for a start date.

"That's assuming the state gets the money in the next couple months," Olson said.

One option would be to look at phasing it into a two-year project, Olson said. By August everything should be in order and construction could start on the Main portion Aug. 1.

"Another option is to proceed on with the March 18 bidding date," he said.

The council decided to move forward with the bid opening date with the option of canceling if it looks like the money isn't available yet.

After discussing the federal funding the council made a few final recommendations on the project, including:

• Having incentive contracting that would give a reward for completing all work prior to Nov. 24, 2010. The reward would be $2,000 per day completed early with a $50,000 maximum. This is contingent on the federal funding and construction starting on time this year, Olson said. If plans change, the city can remove the incentive contracting from the bidding documents.

• Adding an option to replace side street lighting with the project to match the Main Avenue lighting. The other option is to use the existing lighting. The council will decide which way to go after bids are opened. The new lighting is estimated to cost $195,000.

• Approved having light pole irrigation on the outside of the pole. The hose will be black.

The council then approved the final plans and specifications for the Main Avenue project. The bid opening date is slated for March 18 but that could change based on any information received about the federal funding.

Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
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