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Cost jumps for pedestrian bridge to Vikings stadium

Just two contractors submitted bids to build a pedestrian bridge linking the new Vikings stadium and a light rail station, and that may be partly why the price tag has jumped significantly for the controversial project.

The Metropolitan Council’s Transportation Committee on Monday recommended awarding the $9.65 million contract to St. Paul-based LS Black Constructors. The cost is $2.65 million higher than original estimates and will require additional contributions from the professional football team and the council, which will vote on the contract in December.

The Vikings’ share of the cost has been an ongoing sore point for some Metropolitan Council members, who say the bridge directly benefits the team by helping fans get to the stadium much more quickly from the Downtown East station serving the Green Line and Blue Line in Minneapolis.

But Metro Transit, which is under the council’s authority, says the bridge is needed to prevent accidents while hundreds of passengers attempt to cross the existing light rail tracks to get to the games and other events at U.S. Bank Stadium.

The new deal would increase the council’s contribution for the bridge to $4 million from an estimated $3.5 million and raise the Vikings’ shareto no more than $6 million from the previous $3.5 million agreement. Under the new deal, the Vikings would get 90 percent of all revenue generated from advertising at the Downtown East station over the next 30 years, or until the Vikings contribution is repaid – well above the 50 percent in earlier agreements. Annual advertising revenue is estimated to be about $310,000.

The change would slash the Metropolitan Council’s share of annual advertising revenue to about $31,000 from $155,000, said Brian Lamb, general manager at Metro Transit.

James Harwood, Metro Transit’s lead project manager, said several factors contributed to the higher cost and low number of bidders including labor shortages, subcontractor availability, limited site control and the short timeframe for the project. Officials want the bridge to be built by the opening of the new stadium in 2016.

“We were very surprised,” said Harwood, Metro Transit’s lead project manager. “We actually had about 19 different qualified contractors pull our invitation for a bid to review it.”

Transportation Committee member Gail Dorfman, who voted against the original deal and Monday’s proposal, said the deal had become worse for the “little-used” bridge and would be a bad public investment as a result.

Dorfman also criticized the timing of the bridge proposal.

“I don’t understand if there’s such a significant safety risk. … The Vikings have been planning the stadium, and we needed a transit stop that’s been located there for a long time,” she said. “Then why is it at the 11th hour that we all of a sudden said, ‘Hey, we better build a bridge’?”

Committee member Edward Reynoso praised the Vikings for their increased commitment and urged other members to consider the project as “a bridge to safety.”

“Nobody expected that it would come in as high as it did,” he said. “But at the end of the day, I think the commitment from the Vikings has [risen] from $3.5 million to $6 million.”

Committee Vice Chair Katie Rodriguez asked Metro Transit representatives whether other safe options exist for moving people around the tracks, but Harwood said the pedestrian bridge was “far and away the best option.”

The project comes as the number of trains passing through the station is expected to increase in the coming years. The Blue Line and Green Line serve the station, and planned LRT extensions to Brooklyn Park and Eden Prairie will increase the frequency of passing trains.

“Over the course of the next few years, there are going to be four operating lines going in both directions, and the design of the new stadium really funnels 70-plus percent of people out in that direction,” Lamb said.

Waiting to build the project would create pedestrian safety concerns for Metro Transit, Lamb said, specifically for the 20 to 30 events a year that would bring in large crowds.

“We have been, with the use of fencing and with the use of staff resources, pretty effective and we’ve been able to channel people,” he said. “That’s really going to have a much smaller profile with the number of people crossing the light rail tracks, and frankly, I’m not so sure that over the long run, I can give the council an assurance that we can maintain that in a safe manner in the coming years.”

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