ENGLEWOOD — City council approved a bill authorizing City Manager Eric Smith to execute an agreement under emergency status with the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) for the Stillwater Bikeway Bridge Project.
The project proposes the construction of a covered bridge over the Stillwater River that would link the east and west Englewood MetroParks. An existing bikeway/pedestrian walking path would be linked to the bridge to provide a connection with the regional bikeway system in the Miami Valley.
The bridge would be constructed on the precise location of the former Historic National Road covered bridge. This project is scheduled for bid letting in 2020 with a construction cost estimate of more than $3.1 million.
ODOT would handle the environmental work at no cost to the city.
“We passed some preliminary legislation just to file the application for this project about 10 months ago and now we are dealing with the formal legislation,” Smith said.
Councilman Jim Silko inquired about the initial intent of other jurisdictions to participate in the project.
“When we originally talked about and gave the go-ahead to proceed, I was under the impression at that time that Butler township would be involved, Five rivers MetroParks would be involved and would have some money in this game instead of just Englewood,” Silko said. “Now, according to Section II of this ordinance it states that ‘council acknowledges the city’s financial responsibility of 100 percent of the total project expenses, less the amount of Federal-aid and state funds set aside.’ Do we know what those set aside funds are, because I am having an issue writing a blank check here on project and we don’t even know what the numbers are or what kind of contributions we are going to get.”
Smith pointed out that one of the participants in the project has to take on the responsibility of the financial management, and Englewood agreed to do that.
“Five Rivers MetroParks is involved financially with it, and one of the reasons that this project is extended out to 2020 is because MetroParks has to time it with their levy, which is up for vote I believe in 2017 and takes effect in 2018,” Smith stated. “The Conservancy District and Butler Township are aware of the project and in support of it but they do not have any financial involvement in it, so it’s us and Five Rivers MetroParks and we are the financial agent on behalf of the project.”
Silko asked how much of that is Englewood’s obligation, noting that the legislation stated the city would be responsible for 100 percent of the project expenses.
Smith pointed out that means the city would be responsible only for the local cost share. Silko asked what percentage was Englewood’s share versus the MetroParks share. Smith stated those figures had not been worked out yet.
“The worst case would probably be 50-50,” Smith said. “Five Rivers is assuming a large portion of the financial responsibility, but not the entire amount,” Smith noted.
Silko also wanted to know if the city would be responsible for all of the maintenance on the bridge and for any related equipment, such as security cameras and LED lighting.
“We would be part of the maintenance agreement for such things as, if we decided to put a sprinkler system in, we would provide the water. If there were security cameras installed, we would run the fiber optic lines down to the bridge, so the maintenance would be more than likely shared between MetroParks and ourselves,” Smith said.
Councilman Marlyn Flee asked if on down the road the city found out the other participants were backing out, or if the cost was way over what is estimated could the city back out of the project.
“Well, I think there is moral question involved and then there is a legal question,” Smith responded. “Could we not send them a check in order to back out at the last minute? Yeah, we probably could and I could give you an example of where that occurred locally. Morally, if we sign an agreement that were moving forward with this project there is going to be a lot of time and effort invested in making it happen, and so we should probably fulfill that obligation.”
Flee, said he guessed he didn’t have a problem fulfilling the city’s commitment with the understanding in place about the composition of the project.
“Early on when we first started talking about this, Butler Township and other jurisdictions were going to be involved,” Flee said. “If all of a sudden now the ones we think that are going to be involved decide they can’t because the levy doesn’t pass or whatever, I guess I have some concern about not being able to bail on the objective if things don’t turn out like we are thinking.”
Smith noted that the federal grant would cover 74 percent of the cost of the project, leaving the local responsibility at 26 percent.
“Even if we decided that we want to spend up to $1 million on the project, I guess that would be council’s decision on whether or not they believe it would be a worthwhile project,” Smith said. “In my opinion it would still be a worthwhile project even if we ended up with full financial responsibility.”
He added that $3.1 million sounds like a lot of money for a covered bridge, but pointed out it is not just the bridge. It also includes the bikeway network that connects to the covered bridge. That network was designed by Five River MetroParks and would be an interconnection with the bridge as part of the project, albeit the bridge would be the most expensive piece of the puzzle.
Silko said based on his best estimates that according to the federal and state share Englewood would be responsible for just short of $1 million as the local share. Smith confirmed that was accurate.
Smith assured council that Five Rivers is a solid partner in the project and noted the organization has never failed to pass a levy.
“One of the reasons that I think this project is important is because we can’t understate the value of Englewood Reserve to the City of Englewood,” Smith added. “I know a lot of people like to live here because they like the reserve. They walk, they bike… we’ve had a lot of partnerships in the past with the construction of the bikeway and pathway system, so I have no doubt whatsoever that Five Rivers is still going to participate. As far as the percentages, we have to work that out.”
Smith said the current cost estimate was put together taking into account inflation factors and that the estimate was designed to be valid in five years. Engineers estimates tend to be high in order to take into account unknown costs.