Morrisville frets over trail cost

aramos@newsobserver.comJuly 1, 2013 

— A pedestrian and bicycle path near N.C. 54 is costing the town a lot more time and money than Morrisville leaders expected.

The project has faced unforeseen design challenges and some issues with the contractor, Carolina Asphalt.

When the town started the project in 2010, officials expected the cost to be about $97,660 for construction and another roughly $24,800 in professional services to build a 10-foot-wide multi-use path and crosswalk. They would be on the north side of N.C. 54 from the northern ramp of N.C. 540 to the southern ramp of the highway and continuing to Litchin Boulevard.

With a $98,000 grant from the N.C. Department of Transportation, Morrisville expected to pay only about $25,000 in design costs and project administration, plus another 10 percent for contingencies.

But the total project cost has ballooned to more than $268,800. Morrisville’s share would be $170,879 – more than five times the amount originally expected.

The Morrisville Town Council reluctantly approved spending the additional money since November 2011 when the project started hitting snags. They said they worried about the extra cost, but it would be impossible to move forward with the project otherwise.

During a June 11 meeting, Mayor Jackie Holcombe said it was frustrating to see the project come in so far over budget.

Councilman Steve Diehl agreed.

“If we had a crystal ball then, we wouldn’t have moved forward,” Diehl said.

But he said the town needs to keep going since it has already invested so much in the project.

“It gives me heartburn,” said Councilman Steve Rao. “I’m not going to blame anyone. It happens. (We) don’t want to throw away money we didn’t intend to throw away.”

Problems with the project started in the fall of 2012. While preparing for a DOT review, town staff learned that the state needed additional design work, namely some pedestrian accommodations that would cost $24,500.

In November, the project hit another stumbling block. During the preliminary construction meeting, another design modification was needed after staff identified conflicts between the design and fiber optic utilities.

The contractor’s misunderstanding of construction requirements for DOT projects also caused some delays, according to town documents.

Last week, the council agreed to spend $75,000 more to rebid the project if necessary and for project administration costs.

Councilman Michael Schlink cast the lone dissenting vote.

Ramos: 919-460-2609

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