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RAD overhaul over budget by $26M; cutbacks planned
Tuesday, 04 July 2017 10:18

From Staff Reports

Plans to turn Asheville’s River Arts District into a multimodal community are now being revised because of a $26 million cost overrun.

The projects were sent out for bid, and proposals came back in May with price tags over 50 percent beyond projections. City staff members are attributing the difference to skyrocketing construction costs and land values.

 The renovations would have added three new greenways, traffic circles, protected bike lanes, and sidewalks for an estimated $50 million.

Projects would have been funded with $17 million in direct federal funds and another $4.7 million passed through the state. 

An additional $600,000 would have come from state programs, $1.8 million from the local hotel tax, $300,000 from county coffers, and $26 million from city taxpayers.

 To stay within budget, the city is now looking at eliminating greenway extensions and streetside multimodal improvements. 

Specifically, the cuts defund the completion of the French Broad River Greenway West Bank, the Town Branch Greenway, and the Bacoate Greenway; with original estimates of $3.0 million, $3.2 million, and $3.6 million, respectively.

 Also on the chopping block are two-way buffered bike lines and sidewalk that would run along Lyman Street; bike lanes, mini-roundabouts, and pedestrian safety features along Livingston Street; a railroad crossing for bicycles on Riverside Drive; and a retaining wall for sidewalk near the Hillcrest neighborhood.

 Investments the city still intends to make in RAD improvements include 1.5 acres of gardens plus a water demonstration garden, a boat ramp, and a 1-acre plaza with interactive sculpture.

Work on projects using federal funding must begin this August and be completed by December 2020.

 The proposed cuts stirred Mike Sule, director of Asheville on Bikes, to write an open letter urging the city not to postpone infrastructure upgrades critical for public safety.

 Meanwhile, at its June 27 meeting, Asheville City Council agreed to appropriate $6 million toward filling the funding gap. The board further entertained a proposal from former councilman Marc Hunt to streamline the Lyman Street improvements into a single, 16-foot-wide, striped multimodal path.

 Acting City Manager Cathy Ball explained the decisions for cuts were made in order to preserve federal and local tourism funding. The Livingston Street improvements were cut because nobody bid on them.

 Council decided to go forward with the RAD improvements, leaving a number of items at the bottom of the priority list with no funding; but requested more transparency and accountability in the future. 

While city staff works with funders on strategic cuts, it is expected to give the appropriate advisory boards a chance to weigh in while still meeting the August deadline.

Local bicycling advocates, including Sule, have raised safety concerns. “As you adjust priorities, public safety must be your primary criterion,” Sule wrote.



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