The cost of overhauling Robert Street in West St. Paul is continuing to grow.
This time, legal fees from buying right of way are driving up the controversial project’s price. The City Council voted Monday to double the limit for legal costs from $480,000 to more than $1 million. That is expected to cover legal services through the end of next year.
The city has settled with about half the property owners affected by the first phase of construction on the roadway.
“However, that still means we have 50-plus properties to go through the process of condemnation,” Public Works Director Matt Saam told the council.
And just how much those will cost is difficult to determine.
Attorney, appraisal and expert fees in a condemnation case could range from $22,500 to $95,000 for “a longer, bigger fight,” attorney Peter Mikhail wrote in a letter to the city.
West St. Paul staff anticipated that the project would exceed the $480,000 legal cap, which Saam said was just “a first foot in the water.”
Just a handful of the 50 property owners are expected to take the city through the full condemnation process, Saam said. Yet those cases could last for years, and continue even after construction wraps up.
The first phase of the Robert Street overhaul, which is underway, includes adding traffic signals, paving and repairing the previously potholed and dangerous street. Construction crews will begin landscaping and sidewalk work next year. The project is scheduled to be completed by 2017 and is now estimated to cost around $42 million.
The project’s cost has gradually increased and it has drawn criticism from taxpayers and local business owners.
Frustrations over the roadway redo even swept a new mayor, Dave Meisinger, into office last fall. He campaigned on a promise of keeping project costs down.
He, along with the rest of the City Council and staff, sported navy blue “Shop Robert” shirts at a meeting this week. The city’s purchase of 500 of the shirts is part of its attempt to help businesses burdened by construction.
“We encourage you all to shop Robert Street,” Meisinger said at the meeting.
Robert Street is the city’s primary retail corridor. Shoppers in surrounding communities also rely on it. Some people, though, have said the frequency of crashes on the poorly designed road caused them to avoid it in the past. One of the primary goals of the reconstruction is to make the street safer.
However, business owners said customers are still avoiding the road — but now, it’s because they don’t want to deal with construction. Last weekend, three Robert Street intersections were closed.