West Chester Twp. cut the ribbon on the unique diverging diamond interchange on Union Centre Boulevard and Interstate 75 a year ago and this week the trustees added the finishing touch approving $2.7 million for landscaping.
The low bid was for $2.3 million from West Chester-based Benchmark Land Management but the township added 15% for contingencies. The total cost also includes $39,675 to hire Kleingers & Associates, Inc. to manage the project.
The township received only two bids and they were $70,907 apart.
“They were tight together and long story short, we budgeted $4 million for this project,” Township Administrator Larry Burks said. “For it to come in that far under budget means there was a competitive bidding process.”
Trustee Mark Welch said the largest cost is for the one-time expense of the “hardscape” portion of the project including decorative stonework, retaining walls, monument signs and other permanent structures that will adorn the bridge and four on-off ramps. The rest is for trees, plantings and seasonal flowers.
“It does sound like a lot but most of it is a one-time cost and it’s one and done,” Welch said. “And this is our entryway to West Chester so we want to improve this to the point that it is of the same kind as the DDI itself. This is an exceptional job that the township and the Butler County Engineers did, it’s a piece of artwork really and we want to make sure the landscape matches the DDI.”
The $20 million DDI project was completed last August and is designed to alleviate bottlenecked traffic where more than 50,000 cars travel daily. It is one of only three DDIs in the state and allows for free-flowing traffic by eliminating left hand turns and stoplights.
The township paid $6 million in TIF cash and financed the rest through TIF-backed bonds. The early estimate for the project was $14 million, but County Engineer Greg Wilkens had to revise the projection multiple times due to the volatile construction market.
“If people want to say why are my tax dollars going for that, well they really aren’t,” Welch said. “This is being paid for out of the TIF and that was tax dollars from the various businesses that are in the TIF district.”
TIF districts are an economic development tool that many townships, cities and counties use to encourage new investment in an area. A district typically surrounds a parcel or group of parcels and enables the taxpayers within it to make payments into a special fund in an amount equal to their property tax liability for the life of the TIF.
These payments in lieu of taxes are used by the local governments to retire debt incurred for the infrastructure improvements — such as roads and water and sewer lines — needed to support current and future development in the area of the TIF.
The Union Centre TIF has a balance of $33 million, it generates about $8 million a year and expires in 2035. The township has eight active TIF districts but the Capstone TIF doesn’t have any participating businesses yet, according to Barb Wilson, director of Public Information and Engagement.
Tim Franck, director of community services for the township said the hardscapes will be completed first, the trees and shrubs will be planted in the fall and flowers next spring. The township usually builds a 10% contingency into projects but given the length of time involved they wanted an extra cushion
Burks said people should not expect the beautification project to be stunning immediately.
“Landscaping in general, you really don’t get the full effect until it matures after five, six, seven years and you really see what it’s supposed to look like,” Burks said. “It’s takes a long time for it look like what the vision is, it may look a little sparse at first but have confidence it will grow into itself.”
Since 1997 when the UCB interchange was built, there has been more than $2.4 billion in real and personal property investments; more than 22 million square feet of retail, corporate office, entertainment and industrial development, generating more than 25,000 jobs in the Union Centre area, according to the township website.