Western Nebraska Observer - Observations all along the line - Kimball & the Southern Panhandle First

By Daniel Thompson

Long awaited underpass project finally moving forward


Daniel Thompson

The underpass which sits at the north entrance of the city must be under contract for construction by 2015.

The City Council voted to move forward with the long awaited underpass project incorporating the use of federal funds at their meeting the night of November 19.

The decision came on the heels of a presentation by Dave Schaff of M.C. Schaff and Associates, who are in charge of the design of the project, which made it clear that the project is coming up on a very important deadline.

"The gist of it truly is that we are at the point in the programming for the funding agency, Federal Highways Department of Roads, that we need to make sure that we are ready to move forward. And I say that in terms of the next step of the process which will be hiring on HDR as the environmental consultants which is a significant cost and getting them on board to finish the environmental part of this project," Schaff said.

Moving forward there are two options for the design and scope of the project according to Schaff: the one that involves a more modern take on the design and one that will leave the historical rocks of the structure in place.

"We can move forward with the funding agency and the process they've given us, spend their money, but we have to play by their rules. The other option would be to decide that we're going to stick with our local funds and do the cosmetic enhancements that we've been discussing for a while. That would be fixing some of the rocks that are falling in place now, doing some maintenance on the hand rails, fixing the sidewalks, and moving forward on a much smaller scale of the project," Schaff said.

According to Schaff, the project must be under contract for construction by 2015 in either case.

"The Federal Highways has set a deadline for 2015 to have the project under contract with a contractor so whatever that project is to be, the concept, must be under contract by 2015 which is not that far away given the processes we have to follow from this point forward," Schaff said.

City Administrator Daniel Ortiz expressed to the public and the city council that the consequences could be dire should the city not meet the set deadline with the city having to pay back the federal funds that have already gone into the project, which has an estimated cost of approximately $825,000.

"Looking back, we've only been paid out roughly about $40,000 or $50,000. Quite frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if we don't make the deadline and what we have to pay back is to the tune of about $100,000 or more. That'll just for what's been done so far," Ortiz said.

Ortiz also expressed that the council should take advantage of the federal funds offered to the city.

"They're hard to come by. The federal government is not doling out money that they used to so there's an opportunity to move forward with those federal funds provided that we can meet that deadline," Ortiz said.

However, Ortiz admitted that it is uncertain whether or not the deadline could, in fact, be met.

"We are up against a very tight deadline. At this point, without knowing how the process will go, it's hard to determine if we're going to make it," Ortiz said.

According to Schaff, the next step of the project, after an environmental assessment is done of the underpass and surrounding area, is to hold meeting to get input on the design desired for the underpass.

"The initial step will be what they call a stakeholders meeting which will include the city of Kimball, Department of Roads, Federal Highways, and all of the environmental agencies including historic preservation. We'd all sit down in a room and hopefully come up with some sort of a consensus on what the design should involve," Schaff said.

After the stakeholders meeting, there will be meeting in order to get public input on what the community wants the underpass project to look like in the end.

When considering cost and the deadline set for the project, Schaff expressed that he had concerns over going with the plan of leaving the rocks in place as it comes with an unknown price tag.

"My concern is with the rock, in particular. Nobody can come up with a good grasp on what it's going to cost. If we were to take all those rocks out by hand or by machinery, redo the sub grade and put the rocks back, I can't come up with the cost to do that. I can't get a contractor to look at that," Schaff said.

Concerns also arose over ADA compliance which Schaff was concerned could not be met for the project without the use of the federal funds, especially with the environmental piece of the project to come at an estimated cost of $60,000 to $70,000 alone.

"The federal monies we would have to make it ADA compliant. The local funds is a limited resource. In order to make it ADA compliant, I'm concerned that it might be a little more expensive than the money we have allocated," Schaff said.

Currently the city has budgeted $1.5 million for the project, taking into account the federal funds offered to the city.

According to Schaff the ultimate design of the project will be dependent on the meetings held with stakeholders, environmental groups and the public throughout the process moving forward.

When opened for public comment, local resident Larry Stahla, speaking on behalf of the Plains Historical Society, asked the council to consider keeping the historical aspects of the underpass intact moving forward, believing that any change from the original design would hurt its chances of being put on the national historic registry.

"We feel like there is significant historical value to the rocks being put back like they were. The State Historical Society says that this underpass is potentially eligible for the register. In the contract you just got from the state, it refers to it as a historical underpass. I do think you're going to run into some issues with removing the rocks," Stahla said.

However, local resident Julie Schnell simply asked the council to take action and not let the project fall by the wayside again.

"Having just helped facilitate the study groups for Marketing Hometown American, the thing that seemed to come out over and over again is that we need some curb appeal. Don't kick the can down the road. Take care of it. It's not going to get better by doing nothing," Schnell said.

Schnell also expressed that it is also an opportunity to clean up and do some beautification to the downtown area.

"This is an opportunity certainly to add some pizazz to one of our entrances. I think that there would be a way that we could integrate both the historical benefits but maybe in a more modern layout. I'd just encourage you guys to decide to do something. For god's sake don't ignore it, because it's not going to get better," Schnell said.

After considering all options, council member Kim Christensen made a motion to move forward with the project using federal funds.

"We're either going to come up with more money or we're going to have to put it back so I would like to put it in the form of a motion that we proceed with hiring the environmental services, who will work with the project and try to use the federal funds, so that we get every bit of information we need in order to get things going," Christensen said.

The motion was approved unanimously by the council.


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