City Hall

How the Price Tag of the Margaret McDermott Bridge Increased by 25 Percent Overnight

Nearly two years ago, the City Council approved a scaled down version of the Margaret McDermott Bridge, the second of the signature Santiago Calatrava-designed spans across the Trinity River. That was accompanied by a promise by City Manager Mary Suhm that no city funds would be used for the project, which replaces the aging I-30 bridge.

Yesterday afternoon, council members learned that won't be the case. Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan told members of the Trinity River Corridor Project Committee that the cost of the bridge won't be in the neighborhood of $91.3 million, the city had previously estimated and for which federal funds have already been allocated, but $114.9. For those of you doing the math at home, that's a 26-percent increase.

To cover the resulting funding shortfall, the city is forced to get creative. The Regional Transportation Council has allocated $11.6 million to fill half the hole, according to yesterday's briefing. The rest comes from donations (the city has been sitting on a $5 million gift from the Trinity Trust Foundation and just received a $450,000 pledge from the Dallas Foundation for the promised bicycle and pedestrian improvements); $1.9 million in bond funds originally earmarked for public art projects; and cost savings from "value engineering" totaling $3.8 million, as Wilonsky noted over the weekend,

The question remains: How did the city come up with such an atrociously bad estimate of the bridge's cost? The $91.3 million figure isn't a relic of the distant past but was made by a contractor about a year ago. And the real estimate was $86 million, with the extra set aside for "cost overruns."

Then, TxDOT put out the bid for the Horseshoe Project -- the massive Mixmaster redesign of which the Margaret McDermott Bridge is a part -- and the span's cost came in at $114.9 million.

The focus of yesterday's committee meeting was on how good a deal the city's getting. Councilwoman Delia Jasso b lamed the added cost on the vagaries of the construction market and stressed what a good deal the city was getting for spending only $1.9 million of its own money.

"We never signed on a dotted line" on the original estimate, Jasso said. "We've gotta take our licks."

Jordan echoed that point.

"As a region, we should be celebrating that we're getting the bridge we all wanted and it's costing the region $20 million than we thought it was going to," she said.

Councilwoman Angela Hunt acknowledged that the deal still looks like a great deal for the city, at least on paper.

"What that point misses is our congressional leaders and our city staff could have led a robust effort to fix other major roadways in and around Dallas to the tune of $114 million," Councilwoman Angela Hunt told Unfair Park. Instead, we're getting another expensive bauble.

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson

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