Range Line plan expenses mount

State considers ways to control costs for four-lane expansion.
Wednesday, November 24, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:04 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 11, 2008

State officials seeking to expand a stretch of Columbia highway have hit a bump in the road.

Projected costs for the south section of the Range Line Street expansion have increased from $16.5 million to $19.5 million because of rising right-of-way costs, said Kenny Voss, project manager with the Missouri Highways and Transportation Department. He said with incidentals — design costs, construction inspection and unexpected change orders — the cost of the south-section project likely will rise from $22.6 million to $26.6 million. Only the south section is budgeted in the department’s five-year plan.

“Our central office staff has deemed the project too expensive at this point,” Voss said. “We can’t build what we had planned on building with our budget right now.”

To control the project’s costs, Voss said, the department is considering several options, which include reducing shoulder, sidewalk and pedway width, having right of way donated and asking the city for financial assistance.

He said city officials also could work with the North Columbia League, an association of businesses with storefronts along Range Line, to barter with other property owners to make right of way more affordable.

The expansion is intended to convert Range Line into a highway with four lanes, each 12 feet wide, with a 14-foot raised median and a 10-foot shoulder. The project also would include an 8-foot pedway and a 6-foot sidewalk on either side of the road.

The project covers the stretch of road from Big Bear Boulevard to U.S. 63. The south section runs from Big Bear Boulevard to just north of Brown School Road.

Although the department’s plans comply with a city ordinance that calls for sidewalks and their wider cousins, pedways, along new city streets, state officials are encouraging the city to approve a different plan. Rather than a 107-foot right of way with the sidewalks and pedways on either side, the plan would rebuild a state road on the existing 80-foot right of way.

“But we haven’t specifically said we’re eliminating sidewalks or pedways,” Voss said. “We’re just trying to find ways to reduce the costs to fit within our budget.”

Other officials say that the issue is about as clear as the congested stretch of road they hope to improve and that any possible changes to the plan are moot at this point.

Mayor Darwin Hindman said he originally was given a projection of $8 million, though he could not recall whether that covered the entire project. He said that amount climbed to $12 million, then $29 million — way out of the state’s budget.

Voss and Roger Schwartze, engineer for MoDOT’s District 5, verified that the $29 million estimate covers the entire project, an estimate that is likely to increase as right-of-way costs rise.

The original $12 million projection was intended to cover only construction in the south section, Voss and Schwartze said. Both officials said widely circulated information from several sources misinterpreted the figures, making the overall cost of the project appear to have more than doubled.

“Once I learn what the costs are for and what they are attributable to, then we can start determining what to do,” Hindman said. “But there’s no way to determine what to do when you have numbers being thrown around that appear nonsensical.”

Hindman said he wants city and state officials to make every effort to meet the city’s road standards, which are meant to accommodate pedestrians, bicyclists and wheelchair users, as well as the expected volume of automobiles. He said this will ensure roads on the north side of Columbia are built according to the same standards as those on the south side.

“I have a theory about streets,” Hindman said. “My theory is, streets serve a multitude of factors … and I think people who just want to design a street to move cars up and down are not creating a complete street. If we had to go from $12 million to $29 million to build a complete street, we’d have to look at the situation very carefully. But that isn’t the case, I know.”

Once the plan is within budget, MoDOT will pass the project to the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission. Voss said the project is slated to begin in summer 2007.

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