Construction bids for Streetcar Project millions over budget - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

Construction bids for Streetcar Project over budget

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CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) -

Construction bids for the Cincinnati Streetcar project have come in tens of millions of dollars over what a project budget shows the city had anticipated.

The bids include the cost to construct 3.6 miles of streetcar tracks as well as stations and a maintenance and operations facility.

The latest budget for the project available from early 2012 shows $44.6 million dollars budgeted for construction of the tracks and station and $65.8 million budgeted for other costs related to the project for a total streetcar budget of $110.4 million dollars.

If the city went with the lowest bid of the three they would have to shell out $70.9 million in construction costs alone and a potential $15 million additional dollars if a judge decides the city has to pay to relocate Duke Energy's utilities.

If that is the case the budget could balloon to more than $41 million dollars over those early 2012 projections.

The City Administration still has to review the more than 800 line items of the three bids submitted, but say upon initial review they were surprised at the projections that were submitted.

"They came in higher than we had expected, but again we put the proposals out with four different entities looking at them," City Administration spokesperson Meg Olberding told FOX19.

One option is for the city to consider re-bidding the project.

"Either your incompetent about how you're bidding and how you priced this project or you're intentionally misleading the public in order to get the public to support it," councilman Chris Smitherman said.

In a letter he sent to the City Manager's office Smitherman wrote:

"Your office does not have authorization to spend any more money beyond the $110 million without bringing it back to City Council for a vote. I am informing your office in advance that any known expenditure beyond the $110 million without a vote of council would be considered illegal."

For one local businessman the news of yet another potential setback came as an unwelcomed announcement.

Jean-François Flechet opened up a restaurant on Vine Street roughly a year and a half ago after learning sometime before that the streetcar would headed down that road.

"If it wasn't for the prospect of the streetcar I don't think I would have ever have picked this location," Flechet told FOX19.  "I really thought it would have been built by now."

Flechet says he stands behind the project despite the countless hurdles it has faced including the latest announcement that bids came in well over what was anticipated.

"I think they do have some sort of responsibility, I mean people voted on it, budgets have been approved," he said.

With business as hot as the griddles, some might argue there is no longer a need to lay tracks out in front of Taste of Belgium to gain foot traffic.

"Business is doing very well but to redevelop the rest of Over The Rhine I think that the streetcar would really help," Flechet said.

As a former economist turned restaurateur, he argues the project is still worth the dough even if it costs more than anticipated because he argues it will be an engine for economic development that will have a positive long-term effect on the surrounding neighborhoods.

"I do hope that they build it and I hope that it's done in a responsible manner," he said.

Even long time supporters of the project voiced concerns Thursday.

Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls released her own memo to the City Manager which stated in part, "… council has not given the administration a ‘blank check'." Qualls also states, "If these new numbers are confirmed then I believe it is time for the city to step back, put the project through intensive value engineering, and bring the project's cost back into line. I strongly urge you to bring in a project manager/team that has a proven record in brining major construction projects in on time and on budget."

Cincinnatians for Progress, a pro-streetcar group of citizens who helped defeat two anti-streetcar ballot initiatives also released a statement Thursday stating:

"Cincinnatians for Progress consider any suggestion of abandoning the streetcar project to be utterly irresponsible. Not only would it cost the city millions immediately, it could make it extremely difficult to seek federal aid for future transportation development.

Federal agencies prefer to allocate funds where they will be put to the use intended in the manner and on the timetable proposed. For Cincinnati to suddenly cancel a modest project that has been in the works for more than five years would brand the city as an unreliable partner for long-term development efforts.

We have seen no serious analysis that shows any financial necessity nor any economic development benefit to be gained from halting the process. On the contrary, all the evidence supports the streetcar as a source of growth, with long-term benefits to the entire city. To stop it now would undermine the progress that has been made in rebuilding the central city, and threaten prospects for rebuilding the neighborhoods."

Olberding says the bids are currently being examined and the city's administration is reaching out to all of the city's project partners to decide the best step forward.

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