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Cost continues to rise for Jackson greenway bridge

jacksonBuilding a footbridge over the Tuckasegee River will likely wind up costing more than twice the $641,000 it was originally supposed to, Jackson County Commissioners learned when bids for the project came in this summer.

The bridge, which would cross the river to give access to a 1.2-mile section of greenway completed in 2014, has been proving a trickier-then-planned project since its conception.  

In August 2014, project engineer Victor Lofquist told the county that due to unstable soil and the presence of sewer line access points for the Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority on the site, the cost would rise substantially. There wasn’t “any way to foresee any of these things,” Lofquist told the sitting board of commissioners at the time. The soil would need to be stabilized with micropiles — thick, strong, steel bars injected into the ground — and tall retaining walls would have to be constructed to allow TWASA continued access to the lines. 

All that would up the cost to $1.02 million — not including the $304,000 for the bridge itself — Lofquist said last year, but when bids for the project came in June, estimates were even higher than that. The low bid, from Phillips & Jordan — a Knoxville-based contractor with an office in Robbinsville — was $1.35 million, with an option to pay an additional $25,000 for additional parking spaces downriver of the bridge and a walkway to access them. 

Phillips & Jordan is already building the bridge itself, which is about 80 percent complete and part of a separate bid than the site work. 

“We have not much choice but to move forward,” said Commission Chairman Brian McMahan. 

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There’s no denying, however, that moving forward will be an expensive proposition. With engineering fees, bridge construction, installation and site work, the project will cost about $1.7 million, far above the originally allotted $707,000 and much more than the $414,000 it cost to build the 1.2-mile greenway trail. 

The overrun is significant, County Manager Chuck Wooten said, but it’s not anyone’s fault. The high cost is a result of unforeseen complications with the site and higher-than-anticipated construction costs due economic recovery in the construction industry. 

McMahan agreed. 

“If you’ve ever been involved in a building project, there a lot of unknowns,” he said. “You try to do your best to answer all the questions that you can, but sometimes you really just don’t know until you scrape back the surface and start to do the actual work.”

Commissioner Charles Elders said he believes “several factors factored into the overrun” and that it’s possible some things were just “overlooked from the beginning.” 

“It is surprising to have jumped that large amount,” he said. 

The bridge will likely be installed by the end of the year, Wooten said, a delay from the original springtime goal. The delay is mainly due to the wait for the N.C. Department of Transportation to approve the plan, Wooten said. 

The county is also talking with adjacent property owners to get access to the area for bridge installation. As it stands now, the company would have to use the greenway itself to access the site, which would mean damage to asphalt that’s already been laid, incurring additional expense. 

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