Fayette County

Why a planned $35 million trail through downtown Lexington is already over budget

After rendering of a section of Town Branch Commons along Vine Street in downtown Lexington, featuring an urban trail and separate bike lane with trees and shrubs that will dot the trail.
After rendering of a section of Town Branch Commons along Vine Street in downtown Lexington, featuring an urban trail and separate bike lane with trees and shrubs that will dot the trail. SCAPE

Construction hasn’t started yet, but a trail more than three miles long through downtown Lexington is already over budget, city officials said Tuesday.

Brandi Peacher, a project manager for the Town Branch Commons project, said acquiring property along the trail has driven up the cost of the proposed $35 million project. Moreover, construction costs have continued to climb since the project was announced two years ago.

In 2016, the city said the projected cost for the downtown trail was $35.5 million. The trail will start near Rupp Arena, go down Vine Street and up Midland Avenue to connect with the Legacy Trail near Third Street and Midland Avenue. It will connect with the Town Branch Trail on the back side of Rupp Arena.

To pay for the project, the city received $14.1 million in federal infrastructure grants. Other funding sources include nearly $12 million in city bond money and nearly $6 million from state funding. The remaining money came from a state infrastructure loan.

Peacher told the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council during a Tuesday work session that officials are trying to trim costs for the project through design changes. She did not say how much money needs to be saved.

“I can’t confidently tell you the exact amount as we are still trying to get cost estimates,” Peacher said.

Part of the Town Branch Commons project also includes a small section of the Town Branch Trail along Manchester Street in the Distillery District, which has become a popular restaurant and entertainment district. The cost to purchase land in that area has skyrocketed.

Councilman Richard Moloney said during Tuesday’s meeting he would not vote to borrow more money for the trail.

“We have to live with what that budget says,” Moloney said.

The city should have realized that the cost of buying property for right-of-way acquisition would go up two years ago, he said.

“Property goes up, not down,” said Moloney.

Councilman Jake Gibbs said he thinks Town Branch Commons will transform downtown and hopes the city does not skimp too much to get the project done.

The city had set aside a sizable contingency fund of approximately 25 percent, which is much higher than a typical contingency of about 10 percent. That fund could be tapped if there are additional cost overruns that can’t be offset by cuts, Peacher said.

“I hope to come back fairly soon as we get closer to construction,” Peacher said of an accurate number on budget overruns.

Construction will hopefully begin on the trail along Midland Avenue by April, Peacher said. The goal is to have all the sections of the trail completed by 2021, she said.

Peacher said the city will be hosting neighborhood meetings in areas close to the trail in coming months before construction begins.

The $35.5 million original price tag for the project does not include Town Branch Park, a proposed 10-acre park adjacent to a proposed rebuilt convention center and Rupp Arena. A nonprofit has pledged to raise more than $30 million in private money to build the park. Fundraisers announced in June that $5 million has been pledged so far.

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall

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