The St. Paul City Council was in a pickle.
With the city’s first bicycle boulevards under construction on Griggs Street and Jefferson Avenue, a funding gap of $900,000 had emerged and the city needed to match promised federal dollars for the project.
The council’s solution? Strip nearly $300,000 from two other recreation projects already approved and plug it into the Griggs-Jefferson work, with the balance covered by available state and federal money.
That fix, expected to be ratified by the council Wednesday, may please cyclists looking forward to the completion of the new bikeways in late September. But the decision has left community backers of the two bereft projects — a bike bridge linking Lexington Parkway with the Pierce Butler Route, and renovation of the Palace Recreation Center — feeling miffed and a bit betrayed.
“We spent a great deal of time and effort on this, and it was in the budget, and now we’re being told that the money’s going to be taken away, the project’s going to be closed out — which means we have to go back and play the game all over again,” Benita Warns, owner of a bike parts and repair shop, told the council last week.
In response, council members promised that the $91,000 taken from the Palace renovation would be restored and the $200,000 Lexington bike bridge would go to the top of the list of capital projects to be funded in 2015. They plan to vote Wednesday on a resolution that would say as much.
But council members also worried that the money shuffle could undermine citizen confidence in St. Paul’s capital improvement budget process, designed to reflect public support for various projects and rank them accordingly.
The Lexington bike bridge was ranked 10th citywide, but the funding shift means that some projects ranked lower this year will get built first.
“I do think the community loses faith in the process,” Council Member Amy Brendmoen said. “I’m supportive of this funding, but I think this is something we should talk about.”
Part of the problem with the Jefferson-Griggs joint project, officials said, was that it was so late in coming together.
Jefferson was first budgeted in 2010 for $1 million, and Griggs in 2012 for $520,000. The Jefferson bikeway in particular ran up against significant public opposition, which delayed construction.
By the time the city solicited bids last year to finally build both bikeways on the same contract, estimates came back nearly $1 million over the $1.5 million budget. The project was rebid last spring and estimates still came back at $900,000 over budget, prompting city officials to recalculate the budget at $2.4 million.
They attributed the higher cost to inflation and steeper gasoline and asphalt prices.
“Yes, it’s a little bit of sticker shock,” said Paul Kurtz, division manager with the city’s Public Works department.
The bike boulevards will use striping and curb bumpouts to make them safe and easy to ride for cyclists. The Jefferson Avenue bikeway, about 3.8 miles, will run between Mississippi River Boulevard and Duke Street and include two roundabouts; the Griggs Street bikeway will stretch 1.5 miles, between Summit and Minnehaha avenues.