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Friday, December 15, 2017

State asks city for more money, Meade Ave. project may be delayed

By Jason Stuart

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

The Urban Transportation Program project to rebuild North Meade Avenue, scheduled for 2019, may be delayed by another year due to the Helena headquarters of the Montana Department of Transportation demanding that the city commit additional funding to the project.

The Glendive City Council took action at its meeting Tuesday night to try to avoid that delay, unanimously voting to technically commit an additional year of Urban Transportation Program funding — approximately $147,000 — to the project.

The council made the move after Public Works Director Jack Rice explained that he received a call from MDT District 4 Administrator Shane Mintz on Monday to inform him that even though the estimates for the project are coming in lower than expected, MDT headquarters in Helena has apparently decided they want more funding in place before moving forward.

“They called me and said the estimate is coming in about $127,000 lower than expected,” Rice said. “But Helena called and said they wanted a bigger cushion or they were going to push that project out to 2020. They don’t know if we’ll need it or not, but Helena wanted that cushion in there.”

Following that call, Rice and city Director of Operations came up with the idea of committing another year of the city’s Urban Transportation funding to the project, as the city can borrow out up to five years on that funding. 

However, as noted, that is only technically what the council did. As Rice and Dorwart explained, the city has already borrowed out to its five-year limit for the Meade project. What they will actually do is take gas tax receipts — set to increase considerably this year after the Legislature raised the state gas tax — to make up an amount equal to another year’s worth of Urban Transportation funding.

“We can’t use another year of the city’s (Urban Transportation) allocation, so what we’ll try to do is match it with gas tax funds to guarantee it, to supplement it to the amount of using another year’s allocation,” Rice said.

“This is about the only way we can think of to keep it in 2019 instead of 2020,” Dorwart added.

However, though the council promptly and unanimously agreed, Dorwart and Rice further noted that while Mintz believed he could sell the city’s action to Helena, “this isn’t a done deal.”

“Kevin proposed that and they thought that was a great idea, but they had to run it by Helena,” Rice said.

Contacted early Wednesday morning, Mintz, for his part, said he is personally committed to seeing the project go forward as scheduled.

“MDT is on schedule still from a design standpoint, and that’s what we’re committed to trying to hold,” Mintz said. “We support the city in trying to keep it in 2019. Hopefully, this additional commitment  (of funds by the city) doesn’t even come into play.”

If the Meade project were to be delayed, it would likely mean that the reconfiguration of Towne Street from a four-lane to a three-lane would also be pushed out to 2020, Mintz noted, as he is keen to do the projects together to achieve better cost savings, or as he put it, to “get the city the best bang for their buck” on the Meade project.

Mayor Jerry Jimison said that given everything else coming out of Helena these days, he is a little nervous that MDT may still end up kicking the project can down the road, even with the city’s move to commit additional funds.

“The good news is our district administrator has said it’s under what was estimated, but the fact that Helena wants extra cushion makes us a little tense that they’re not going to do it on schedule as promised,” Jimison said. “We don’t want either of those projects held up.”

The mayor concluded by saying that residents living along Meade or who travel it regularly have waited long enough for a new street surface.

“I feel the residents who use Meade Avenue have been very patient and understanding, so we don’t want to drag it out any longer than need be,” Jimison said.

 

Reach Jason Stuart at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

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