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Monroe Street construction

Monroe Street, home to a mix of businesses, schools, and residential properties, will undergo a major reconstruction in 2018. City officials are creating a plan to move ahead with the project after bids came back far over estimates.


After bids to reconstruct Monroe Street came in far over estimates, Madison may tap city utility budgets and scale back parts of the long-planned project, even as costs are expected to rise from $17.7 million to $22.4 million.

The project, slated to start in March and end by November, involves replacing decades-old utility lines, improving pedestrian safety and repaving cracked and crumbled blacktop along the busy Near West Side street.

The full cost was initially budgeted at $17.7 million, with an Engineering Division estimate of $15.7 million for construction and the rest for burying overhead utility lines, city staff time, labor and materials, and contingencies.

Three construction bids were opened on Dec. 21, with the lowest from Speedway Sand & Gravel of Middleton at $18.65 million. R.G. Huston bid $23.9 million, and Parisi Construction $25 million.

Mayor Paul Soglin, who met with Engineering Division staff on Tuesday, said he hopes to move the project forward but without more general obligation borrowing, which would require a budget amendment with 15 of 20 City Council votes.

“Engineering believes they can scale back some aspects of the project,” Soglin said. “I’ve asked them to come up with recommendations and a proposal for me.”

Even before receiving the bids, the Engineering Division knew it would have to increase the budget based on more refined, final estimates, City Engineer Rob Phillips said.

Now, to cover costs, the division is proposing to reallocate $2.4 million from existing sewer and water utility budgets, seek $1.45 million in new appropriations for stormwater utility work, and allow the city to spend $820,000 more in special assessments, Phillips said.

The amount of special assessments to be paid by property owners won’t change, but the city had placed an inadequate number in the budget and needs to increase its budget authority, he said.

The moves would preserve the core of the project but push the total cost to roughly $22.4 million, Phillips said, adding that such financing changes would still require a supermajority council vote.

The project would have been even more expensive but the Engineering Division is proposing to defer moving overhead utilities underground and save $1.37 million, he said.

“It’s a project that went through an extensive process with the neighborhood to come up with a design that worked for all involved,” he said. “It’s a really good project that the community is going to be proud of.”

Ald. Sara Eskrich, 13th District, who represents the area, said, “We are doing what we can to continue the project with minimal additional funding, and no additional (general obligation) borrowing. This will mean not undergrounding utilities at this time, but (we’ll) work to run conduit so this can be done in the future.”

Under current plans, a full reconstruction, which includes repaving, utility work and replacing sidewalks and curbs, would happen from Regent Street to Leonard Street. Only the pavement and utility lines would be replaced from Leonard Street to the junction of Odana and Nakoma roads.

The plan calls for raising the grade at four Monroe Street intersections — Harrison, Leonard, Knickerbocker and Glenway streets — to act as a traffic calming method. Crosswalks at these locations would also be colored to make them stand out.

In the business districts, the city plans to install shorter street lights and replace coin-operated parking meters with electronic terminals. The entire sanitary sewer on Monroe Street would be replaced, along with much of the water main and the storm sewer where it’s necessary.

After examining the bids, the Engineering Division determined that stormwater and sanitary sewer and water main improvements accounted for most of the cost overages, Phillips said. “The contractors look at the utilities as a very difficult part of the project,” he said.


Dean Mosiman covers Madison city government for the Wisconsin State Journal.