CRA approves undergrounding project

Bradenton Beach CRA underground
The CRA has committed funds to underground the utility lines on Bridge Street. - Joe Hendricks | Sun

BRADENTON BEACH – The Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) has agreed to spend approximately $568,000 to place underground the utility lines on Bridge Street and some of the lines that cross over Gulf Drive.

Having discussed the project for several months, the CRA members received cost estimates on Sept. 5 from the CDM Smith engineering and consulting firm that’s guiding the Longboat Key undergrounding project.

The CRA members agreed in principle to spend $440,000 to bury the utility lines on Bridge Street, including the connection fees for Bridge Street property owners and business owners to be connected to the above-ground transformers.

CDM Smith Senior Utility Coordinator Mark Porter said the fee connections typically cost $2,000 to $7,000, and he thinks the Bridge Street connections will be on the low end of that. Earlier this year, CRA member and City Commissioner Jake Spooner discussed the connection fees with several Bridge Street property owners and some opposed the connection fees.

The $440,000 estimate includes $18,000 for street lighting replacement and $40,000 in contingency funds to cover unanticipated costs.

The CRA members also agreed to spend $77,000 to bury eight lateral utility lines that cross over Gulf Drive between Cortez Road and Fourth Street South. That estimated fee includes $4,000 in contingency funds.

The CRA members agreed to hire CDM Smith to oversee the undergrounding project. CDM Smith associate Amelia Davies estimated that cost to be about 10 percent of the overall project costs. This amounts to about $51,700 and brings the total estimated project cost to $568,000. A previous preliminary cost estimate provided by CDM Smith was roughly $750,000.

The CRA approval included the stipulation that CDM Smith coordinates with Emily Anne Smith, the independent architectural designer contracted to develop a CRA district master plan. During public comment, Smith said she supports the project, will incorporate it into her designs and wishes it would have happened 20 years ago.

The contract with CDM Smith is expected to be presented at the next CRA meeting.

CRA discussion

CRA chair and City Commissioner Ralph Cole has pushed for the undergrounding project since at least early 2017, and he’s often noted it was included in the original CRA plan adopted in 1992.

“It’s always been put off because the funds weren’t available,” he said last week.

Cole said burying the utility lines would beautify and enhance Bridge Street while also eliminating the possibility of those power lines coming down in a storm.

“We’re using the CRA money for what it was meant to be used for,” he said.

Spooner, who’s also a Bridge Street business owner, asked Porter how disruptive the project would be to the businesses.

Porter estimated the entire project would take no more than six months, and the Bridge Street properties would never be without power. He said the disruption to the businesses would be minimal because directional boring would be used to bury the utility lines and conduits.

“You don’t have to go in there and tear up roads and sidewalks. We just have to have somewhere to set the rig and have the bore come up,” Porter said, noting the most disruptive work could be scheduled earlier in the week when the businesses are slower.

“I think this is a bold move. I think it says a lot about Bradenton Beach and its CRA and is something tangible that people can see,” said member Ed Chiles, who was participating by phone.

“I do think this is one of the most important projects the CRA has taken on. It shows the leadership in Bradenton Beach because by this move the CRA is leading the way to underground the utilities for Anna Maria Island. Bradenton Beach’s downtown area is taking the very first, most important step in this regard. I think it can grow from here and go Island-wide, and I hope it will,” Chiles said.

Funding mechanism

Using tax increment revenues generated in the CRA district that extends from Cortez Road to the southernmost property lines along Fifth Street South, the CRA will cover the entire cost of the project, and the city’s general fund will not be impacted.

As of early August, the CRA fund balance was about $1.7 million, according to City Treasurer Shayne Thompson. The CRA’s 2018-19 fiscal year budget anticipates an additional $474,463 in tax revenues for the new fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. The undergrounding project was not included in the CRA’s 2018-19 budget, and that will require a future budget amendment.