Rockville officials are considering whether to scrap a million-dollar project to rebuild a pedestrian bridge east of downtown after the price tag turned out to be higher than expected.
The original Stonestreet Pedestrian Bridge was built in 1973 to connect South Stonestreet Avenue and Veirs Mill Road across the train tracks as a replacement for an older vehicular bridge. Rockville closed the bridge in 2010 after it failed a structural integrity inspection. The city removed the bridge in 2011 and hired an engineering firm to design a new one.
Councilmember Mark Pierzchala said that rebuilding the bridge would cost more than initially expected, however, in part due to the cost of adding wheelchair ramps to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“The bridge itself has approximately doubled in cost,” Pierzchala said. “Mainly, I understand from city staff, that's because of the additional ADA requirement, because they would have to have ramps. ... That's a very difficult site for that sort of thing.”
Craig Simoneau, Rockville's director of public works, said the bridge would cost $1.19 million to build. ADA-compliant ramps account for $530,000 of the cost, constructing the bulk of the bridge and lighting costs $550,000, and railroad permit fees cost and services cost $110,000. Those figures do not include “sunk costs” — design and demolition costs that have already been incurred or are in the process of being spent. Simoneau said the city has already spent about $383,000 to demolish the bridge and almost $143,000 to design a new one.
Rockville usually has a budget surplus of a couple million dollars, Pierzchala said, but that wasn't the case this year. Scrapping the bridge project would give officials more money to work with in balancing the budget, he said.
“That's really money we can bring back into the general fund,” Pierzchala said.
City financial staff are anticipating a budget shortfall of about $2.6 million if Rockville does not increase its property taxes. In order to balance the five-year capital improvements budget projection without making any cuts, staff had to assume a two-cent property tax increase in fiscal 2014 and another half-cent increase in 2015.
Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio said at a November meeting that the community was expecting the bridge, and she wanted to get residents' input before removing the bridge from the budget. She also said children from St. Mary's Catholic School might use the bridge if it was built. Marcuccio told The Gazette last week that she also thinks rebuilding the bridge would be too expensive given the fact that comparatively few people use it, but she wanted to get public input before making a decision.
“I think what we've done is the appropriate thing to do, and that is to ask [for community input],” she said.
If the community wants the bridge rebuilt, Marcuccio said she would probably support keeping the project in the pipeline, but if not, plenty of other capital projects and budget costs are awaiting funding.
David Davis, an East Rockville resident, said he would support moving ahead with the new bridge if people would use it, but right now, he doesn't see much demand for it. The bridge is about a quarter mile from two other railroad crossings, and it does not connect to bike lanes, he said. The railroad tracks also mark the dividing line between the Richard Montgomery and Rockville school clusters in that area, so students from East Rockville generally do not attend Richard Montgomery High School across the tracks, Davis said.
“My knee-jerk reaction was that the bridge should be rebuilt to improve bicycle and [pedestrian] access across the tracks,” Davis said in an email. “However, in researching the issue in more depth, I don't think the benefits justify the costs in this fiscal climate.”
Chas Hausheer, president of the East Rockville Civic Association, said the association is not taking a position on the bridge at this point in time, but residents are planning to discuss it at their next meeting.
Rockville's Mayor and Council will hold a public hearing about the bridge during their Jan. 14 meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. Learn more about the project at rockvillemd.gov/residents/publicworks/stonestreet-bridge.