The complete renovation of the Green Bay/Ridge/Emerson/Asbury intersection under the Metra tracks was supposed to cost the City about $8.6 million. When it went out for bid, however, the lowest responsive bid came back at more than $11 million. City Council grappled with how to react to the $2.5 million gap on March 21.
City Director of Public Works Dave Stoneback described the project, including replacing five 30-plus-year-old traffic signals and adding a sixth at Green Bay Road and Asbury Avenue; improving the landscaping along Green Bay Road; and replacing 1.2 miles of 100-year old water mains, 85 new drainage structures and 55 new streetlights, which would include improved lighting under the Metra viaduct.
Mr. Stoneback called the project incredibly complex, and pointed out the “267 different pay items on this project.”
“Staff is trying to analyze how we’re going to move forward,” Mr. Stoneback said. Currently, the project is approved for funding by a grant of about $1.91 million from IDOT, a $1.92 million air quality improvement grant from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) and about $4.5 million in City capital improvement funds.
“We are going back to Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and CMAP to see if they’ll increase funding,” said Mr. Stoneback. While the City has little hope of getting anything more from the state, CMAP might be willing to add to their grant, he admitted.
“Also, we’re looking at options to reduce the scope of the project,” he said. Removing some water mains and repaving Asbury Avenue, Ridge Avenue north of Emerson Street and Green Bay Road north of Noyes Street – including bridge-sidewalk widening – could be cut from the project.
If there is no increase in grant funding and Council wishes to complete the project in its entirety, funding would have to come from general obligation bonds – borrowed money payable through property tax levies – said City CFO Marty Lyons.
Mr. Stoneback said the City needs to make a decision on or before April 1, because the IDOT deadline is April 18. If the City meets the deadline, the project should still get started and likely completed this year, he said.
Several alderman voiced support for completing the entire project, even if the City had to borrow to do so. Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, said delaying water main replacement could create more costs than it saves. He cited Central Street emergency water main repairs as an example.
“We keep pushing stuff back,” said Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward. “We started on this in 2006 or 2007… This is a main corridor to downtown and this intersection is horrible. Anybody who drives it knows this. … No one wants to spend taxpayer dollars, but I think taxpayers will understand.”
Aldermen Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, and Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, agreed with Ald. Holmes.
Although the construction should be completed this year, “the State pays for the construction, but it won’t be until 2017 that the State asks Evanston for payment,” said Mr. Stoneback.
“Why don’t we just not reimburse the State?” quipped Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl. “They are always threatening to not reimburse us.”
The matter was presented for discussion only. Residents can expect a decision at a vote at the April 11 meeting, at which time the City expects to know whether its grants have been increased and, if so, how much of a funding gap remains.