“(Fifty-five million dollars) is a lot of money, and I'm not hearing an expectation in the community that this be built. We need to prioritize,” County Council President Paul Moss said Wednesday as council considered whether to authorize the extension of Maplecrest Road south across the Maumee River to Adams Center Road.
Discussed since the late 1960s and actively pursued since the late 1990s, the project has been touted as a needed north-south corridor on Fort Wayne's east side and a key to bringing industry and jobs to hundreds of acres targeted for development near the now-closed Adams Center Landfill.
Congress awarded about $9 million to the project in 2005, but construction estimates that have increased from $21.2 million in 1996 to nearly $55 million have caused several council members to question whether the project's benefits would justify its expense — which they fear could affect the construction and maintenance of other roads and bridges.
The concerns expressed by Moss and several other council members are significant because, as the county's financial body, council would have to approve issuing any bonds sold to pay for the project. To that end, the county commissioners plan to conduct a study that would assess the project's impact on economic activity along the corridor. Initial bids put the cost of the study at $50,000 or more, but Commissioner Bill Brown said he hopes the final expense will be less.
Some Council members said they want construction costs to be less, too.
The county's longest existing bridge is the 416-foot Columbia Street bridge over the Maumee. But two of the Maplecrest project's three proposed bridges — at 230 feet, 775 feet and 1,100 feet — would be far longer. The bridges would eliminate perennial traffic bottlenecks caused by grade-level railroad crossings, but Moss wondered whether the $500,000 pledged to the project by the Norfolk Southern Corp. might be better spent moving a busy railroad switching yard, perhaps minimizing or eliminating the need for some of the expensive-to-build bridges.
Adding to council's concern is the uncertain nature of some of the proposed funding.
In addition to the money already pledged by Congress, commissioners propose using vehicle taxes, the county's major bridge fund and funds generated by a tax incremental financing district (TIF) — which would divert taxes from new development in the area — to pay for the project. But a TIF generates money only if development actually happens, and even then the available dollars would be millions short of the needed amount. That's why the county said it may hire a lobbyist — at about $5,000 per month — to seek another $8 million or so from Congress.
“But what happens if we don't get that $8 million?” asked Councilman Darren Vogt.
“We would have to re-evaluate,” Commissioner Nelson Peters said. “But there are safety issues involved (such as firetrucks and ambulances being delayed by frequent trains).”
Vogt also noted trucks driving north on Maplecrest would probably still connect with I-469 east of New Haven instead of driving through the narrow residential section of the road near the Georgetown Shopping Center, which City Councilman Tom Smith has vowed to protect from heavy trucks. That might create a need to improve Lake Avenue too, he said.
“This is a roll of the dice, based on questionable data,” Moss said. “The public's appetite for projects like this (after Harrison Square) is fairly low.”
The commissioners expect their economic impact study will whet that appetite. Council meets again in three weeks, and hopes to have the results by then.Council agreed to spend $210,000 to repaint the exterior roof support beams at the Memorial Coliseum Exposition Hall. The steel girders were painted at a cost of more than $150,000 in 2006 but began peeling almost immediately because of application problems, according to General Manager Randy Brown.
Fee refunds from the project's architect, testing firm and a bond from the original painter, Baughman Inc., will bring that figure down to about $139,000, said Brown, who hopes to recover additional costs from Baughman.
Company owner Dean Baughman said last year he stood by his work and offered to repaint the girders for free — but was rejected.