Bids for a new underpass that would link the Aspen Airport Business Center (AABC) with the airport are coming in $1 million over original budget estimates, a Pitkin County official told the Elected Officials Transportation Committee (EOTC) at a meeting on Thursday.
The county originally estimated construction costs of $3 million, of which it has committed to paying $500,000. The EOTC agreed to contribute $1 million and the rest would come from a Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) FASTER grant.
The underpass was proposed to create a safer pedestrian crossing of Highway 82 at the AABC. Currently, many people opt to cross the highway in front of the bus stop instead of going to the stop light and crosswalk. The new underpass would align with a connection into a relocated airport terminal, which is currently in the planning stages.
On Wednesday, the county received bids on the project from three companies out of Denver. The lowest bid was $3.9 million, according to Brian Pettet, director of Pitkin County public works. County staff have not analyzed the bids yet, but the next step is to get together with engineers to figure out ways to reduce or fund that shortfall, he said.
Meanwhile, Pettet also announced that the cost of moving and installing utilities surrounding the area would be $88,000 more than originally estimated. That’s because workers would have to move the utilities twice — once during construction of the underpass and a second time to install them permanently, he said.
“Because of that double move, it’s exacerbated the cost,” Pettet said.
Along with higher estimates for the rest of the work, that puts the project over budget estimates by about $1 million, Pettet said.
If the EOTC wants to retain the FASTER grant, a decision on the construction company would have to be made by mid-March. That means there is a limited amount of time to fund the shortfall, Pettet said.
Snowmass Mayor and EOTC member Bill Boineau raised the question of whether the board should drop the project in light of the news.
“At what point does the owner decide they can’t go forward with the project when the numbers go as high as they do?” Boineau asked. “ ... There gets to be a point in our lives where we need to make a judgment call that this is more than we can afford to do.”
Boineau acknowledged that safety is important and he didn’t want to see anyone hit crossing Highway 82. Still, the EOTC shouldn’t encourage staff to move forward with the project if it is not determined who is going to pay for it, Boineau said.
Mayor Mick Ireland suggested that the board divide the difference up among agencies in the same proportions it is paying for the rest of the project. It is worth moving forward with the project now, because the construction costs will only go up in the future and state grants are secured, Ireland said.
The project should also be completed, because it will fix a problem that will not go away, he said. Generally, people will always choose a direct path across a street instead of opting for a safer one, Ireland said.
“That’s how people are,” Ireland said. “They take the short cuts.”
It’s only a matter of time before someone is injured at the intersection, he said.
Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock said that the county could potentially offer additional funds from its savings, but the county couldn’t fund the entire shortfall. The county is formally on the hook for any overages related to the project, Peacock added.
The board agreed to hold a special meeting in the next two weeks to go over the specifics of the costs and funding options. It will then make a decision on whether the project should move forward.