After a lengthy discussion Tuesday afternoon, the West Chester Twp. trustees unanimously agreed to pay $20 million to build the diverging diamond interchange at Union Centre Boulevard.
“This is our purpose, this is why we are here,” Trustee Ann Becker said. “We’re here to build roads and make sure people can get to them safely and quickly. I think this is a project that needs to be done. I’m frustrated that it cost more than we expected but it happens sometimes.”
Trustee Lee Wong said the project is crucial.
“One of our responsibilities is to make sure people can get to work in an orderly fashion, quickly,” he said. “Of course we are very mindful of taxpayers money.”
Trustee Board President Mark Welch had no hesitation voting for the measure, after Butler County Engineer Greg Wilkens provided information on key issues that went into the higher price and what may happen if there is further delay.
Wilkens began by reminding the trustees when this all started in 2014 there were no other diverging diamond interchanges in the state, thus no comparisons available, and the $14 million estimate was “our gut.”
Wilkens bumped the price up to $17 million earlier this year because of the “scary” bidding process his office is experiencing, with at least two bids 7.7 percent more than even the estimates he had already increased. He told the Journal-News he revised it again, upping it to $18.5 million, before the bids were sought.
If he hadn’t, the bids would have been 10 percent over estimates, and officials would have been forced to reject them.
Going out to bid in the spring, as opposed to earlier in the year, can bring in fewer competitive bids because contractors are busy, according to the engineer. A labor shortage has also increased bid amounts this year.
The trustees and Township Administrator Larry Burks asked if it would be better to wait until the fall to accept other bids.
“I’d hate to pay $19.99 million for an $18 million project,” Burks said.
“I’d say the real decision you’ve got is do you want the project or not because you’re not going to get a cheaper bid,” he said, adding he talked to the contractors who bid and they offered the most competitive bids they could.
“The prices are going up and I have no reason to think they’re coming down.”
The bid process resulted in only three bidders:
• John R. Jurgensen: $19.99 million
• Sunesis Coast: $21.68 million
• Barrett Paving: $22.2 million
The township already sold $14 million in TIF-backed bonds to pay for the project and will pay cash for the extra $6 million, also out of the UCB TIF. Township Finance Director Ken Keim counseled the board not to delay long.
“The IRS frowns on borrowing money and then sitting on it,” Keim said.
The township regularly has a TIF fund balance of around $38 million and generates about $10 million annually in revenue.
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. The funds are mainly used for infrastructure projects like the interchange.
Originally Wilkens hoped this would be a one construction season project but he said that could only have happened if the project began in March. Road crews will be mobilized in about six weeks after the commissioners award the contract to Jurgensen Monday.
There should only be one brief closure during the construction.
The unique design is meant to handle traffic — about 50,000 cars daily traverse the interchange — for 20 years.
The diverging diamond design eliminates left-hand turns. How it does that can be tough to visualize. In short, the traffic pattern briefly sends cars over to the left side of the road. Drivers wanting to get on the interstate no longer have to wait for a left-turn signal: They simply veer off to the left as they cross the bridge and head down the ramp.
Thank you for reading the Journal-News and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to your daily ePaper and premium newsletters.
Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Journal-News. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.