FRA approves $1.4 million to help depot project

City Manager says city still a half a million short

CLARIFICATION – An Amtrak official notified Pen City Current Wednesday norning of a clarification that the money is Amtrak money not Federal Railroad Administration money. Amtrak needed prior approval from the FRA to use Amtrak funds for the project.

BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
PCC EDITOR

FORT MADISON – The Federal Railroad Administration has earmarked $1.4 million to help offset the costs of relocating the Fort Madison Amtrak depot to Riverview Park.

City officials received a letter Monday morning from Amtrak outlining the money is coming as part of a one-time commitment from a program to bring Amtrak into compliance with the American’s with Disabilities Act.

With that commitment, and Amtrak’s original offers of financial support, the total from Amtrak comes to $1.55 million. Amtrak had originally offered $150,000 to build what was projected to be a $1.4 million platform on to the building housing the North Lee County Historical Society and Museum.

In September a bid from Iowa Bridge and Culvert came in double the cost at $2.83 million almost killing the project. Former mayor Brad Randolph, and former councilman Chris Greenwald and other staff went to work with Amtrak and FRA officials to try and come up with a last-minute resolution to the project.

City officials had gotten wind of a possible infusion of funds from the FRA, but the confirmation didn’t arrive until Monday morning.

But during a discussion at Monday night’s regular city council meeting, City Manager David Varley said the city was still short between $500,000 and $600,000 on the project.

Fort Madison Mayor Matt Mohrfeld said that didn’t track with his numbers, and Randolph, who was in attendance seemed shocked at the figure as well.

A meeting with Randolph, Mohrfeld and Varley took place in the Mayor’s office immediately following the regular council meeting.

“We weren’t all on the same page with that contingency figure,” Mohrfeld said after the meeting. “I’m gonna work with Dave the next couple of days to find those dollars, but there’s so many moving parts.”

“This is a $2.8 million project and with a contingency of 15% you’re talking more than $400,000.”

Two new bids came in on the project with Iowa Bridge and Culvert, and Lunda Construction of Wisconsin both bidding, Lunda’s project came in about $300,000 less than Iowa Bridge and Culvert’s bid of $2.7 million, but the DOT is recommending the Iowa Bridge bid because of some hiccups with Lunda’s subcontractors getting Disadvantaged Business Enterprise certifications by the state.

Those DBE’s help bring smaller for-profit businesses into the contract stream as part of DOT bidding processes.

The bid is now $676,000 over projected budget, but the shortfall will be made up as part of the FRA commitment. Other funds for the two fiscal years of construction will come from original state/federal grants of $1.086 million in state and federal grants, $150,000 from Amtrak, and $859,457 from FRA, not including covering the shortfall.

Mohrfeld said the city is caught in the middle, and the city was just setting a public hearing on awarding the bid and would listen to any changes in the status of the bids, but the DOT would be handling the bids. DOT officials called Lunda’s efforts “unresponsive”.

“We will take input, but in terms of our options they are to either accept the other bid or turn it down. When it’s handed to us DOT tells us it’s an allowable bid. If there is an intervention that would change things between now and then – then that would change what comes before the council.” Mohrfeld said.

Ryan Drew President Southeast Iowa Building and Trades also advocated for taking the lower bid saying he was lost as to why the DOT called Lunda’s efforts unresponsive.

“We find ourselves in this dilemma where for the life of us we can’t figure out where the DOT is at with this,” Drew said. “I know the council is in the middle so to speak by what the DOT has for policy.”

Drew said Lunda got in contact with DBE vendors on Jan. 22, the same day the January bids were taken down. The next day that vendor was certified, so he said the same day it was posted to go out for bid, they made those efforts and contacted the DOT. But Drew said the DOT turned around and said they were unresponsive and had to be certified by Jan. 20 to be considered for the project.

“On bid date the state says ‘you’re two days late’. Now anybody in this room I would think would have to sit back and think where is the good faith effort from the state DOTs part to not include that,” Drew said.

Mohrfeld said things would have been better if Lunda had gotten the bid because Amtrak is still committed to $1.55 million no matter what the bid comes in at.”

The public hearing was set for March 17, 2020 at 5:30 p.m. during the council’s next regular meeting.

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