Questions Remain as Construction Begins on Bridge
By LaDarius Calhoun
While construction is underway on a bridge some say could bring economic benefits as well as make downtown more aesthetically pleasing, the cost of the project is still being questioned.
Construction on the bridge began June 15, nine days before city, county and Blueprint 2000 officials held the groundbreaking ceremony.
The pedestrian bridge will go from Cascades Park to South Adams Street, crossing over South Monroe Street. It comes with a $7.2 million price tag, which remains a point of contention for some.
Leon County Commissioner Bill Proctor has been at the forefront among those questioning the project. He described the bridge – officially dubbed the Capital Cascades Crossing — as a “sidewalk in the air.”
The pricey cost includes a parking lot, an eye-catching design that features solar panels that will light up in the night sky, landscaping and sidewalks. Construction is expected to be completed in March 2016, according to project manager Gary Phillips.
The Project was originally approved in 2011 by the city and county commissions at much less cost.
Juan Goni, the project’s original engineer, said officials promised four years to build the bridge for $2.5 million. A $4.5 million budget was later approved before the cost of the bridge escalated almost an additional $3 million.
This past March, Goni said that commissioners had been “bamboozled.” He explained that the original bids for the project listed an overall cost of $2.5 million. He suggested the cost increase was due to the unnecessary “eye-catching” design.
It’s a waste of money, he said.
“It’s an extravagant bridge that is not in the interests of taxpayers,” Goni said.
The original price was a bit exorbitant because it meant the 160-foot-by-12-foot bridge would amount to $1,300 per square foot. The average bridge in the state of Florida costs $130 per square foot.
The Capital Cascades Trail is funded by an additional 1-cent sales tax, which was approved by voters in 2000, said Wayne Tedder, director of Blueprint 2000. Many of the current improvements that are being done on the south side of Tallahassee are included in the Blueprint 2000 sales tax extension approved by voters last fall.
Tedder rebutted criticism of the bridge by saying, “We’re simply implementing a project citizens voted for in 2000.”
Tedder is holding his defense on the matter of the costly bridge because he believes it will provide a “gateway” element for Tallahassee’s south side and downtown.
“This is way more than a bridge,” he said. “I definitely see it as a catalyst to economic development and a lot of activities on the south side.”