Unicoi connector trail comes in over budget, scaled back project going back out for bids

Sue Guinn Legg • Mar 16, 2020 at 9:53 PM

UNICOI — The town of Unicoi’s ARC-grant-funded Buffalo Valley Connector Trail project is going back out for bid.

On Monday, the Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted to advertise for bids on a scaled-back version of the trail project after learning each of four proposals submitted in response to the town’s last request for bids had come in over budget.

In a brief review of the project’s history, Jonathan Shipley with Tysinger Hampton and Partners engineers reminded the board the proposed walking trail from the Pinnacle Fire Tower Trail trailhead past the Unicoi Tourists Information and Visitors Center to the Maple Grove shopping center was first advertised for bids last summer.

At that time, Shipley said, the advertisement failed to draw any bids due to an extremely rainy construction season that had put local contractors behind schedule.

The board put the project back out for bids in February and recently received four bids, of which the lowest was about $409,000, or approximately $58,000 more than budgeted.

Shipley told the board its options included proceeding with the higher-than-anticipated construction cost, terminating the project or advertising the project with a reduced scope that would remove the section of walkway from the visitors center to Maple Grove and bring the project within the targeted budget of $340,000 to $350,000.

Following a discussion that included the possibility of having to pay back approximately $52,000 in grant funding already spent on the project, the board voted to reject the four recently submitted bids and re-advertise the project on a reduced scope.

In an unrelated construction project, the board voted to accept a Tennessee Department of Transportation proposal to rebuild and widen the Unicoi Drive (State Route 107) bridge over North Indian Creek just south of Unicoi Town Hall.

The bridge construction will be funded entirely by the state at no cost to the town and is expected to take several months to complete, during which lane closures and traffic delays are anticipated.

Mayor Johnny Lynch noted the bridge replacement has been on TDOT’s list of upcoming safety projects for a number of years and is not related to another connector trail project proposed in that area.

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