Updated: Dec 15, 2022
$90K in unplanned meetings confirm that the “final design” was rushed through, requiring expenses to be covered by a $1M "loan" from the Open Space Fund that is unlikely to be repaid for a decade
This past July, we outlined a worse case scenario for the total costs for the Western Section of the struggling Kennett Greenway, including the projection that the Chandler Mill Trail (CMT) section might increase from $5.5M to $6.5M. Our worse case scenario was realized just 10 weeks later with the release of Kennett Township’s 2023 draft budget. Total projected costs for the 1.4 mile CMT are now expected to exceed $6.57 million when all costs incurred by the current team of designers since 2020 are considered, a 12% increase over projections made just 16 months ago. And barring significant design changes, these are likely to increase.
We summarize the details in the table to the right. This represents a significant increase - over $700K - from the total projected costs of about $5.87M provided by the design team just 16 months ago, when they presented the “Final Design” to supervisors for approval in June 2021. While some of these new costs could be attributed to inflation or fall into the "5% contingency", this also underscores how a small percent increase translates in massive costs when the project's overall price tag is already exorbitant.
This further reinforces our belief that the CMT Team - e.g., design team led by Biohabitats (and including Unknown Studio, McMahon, and Meliora), Kennett Trails Alliance (KTA), and/or Township Manager Eden Ratliff rushed the final design through in June 2021 to pre-empt discussions of other alternatives conflicting with the design preferred by KTA. Our evidence?
Buried on the final page of the 65 page draft 2023 budget (see above) is the projection that $90K will have been spent in 2022 on “out-of-scope” design meetings. We would expect that out-of-scope meetings become necessary to address issues not addressed by the CMT team, confirming that the design that supervisors approved in June 2021 was far from final.
Other construction costs added after the approval of the final design address concerns raised by residents, costs that appear to have been overlooked by the design team; for example, the need for a plan to protect still more trees from being destroyed during construction (on top of the hundreds of trees already slated for removal), and for one year of maintenance of the more than 400 trees and 16000 square feet of roadside buffer plantings.
$250K has now been set aside to acquire the right of way from landowners. This is another expense that the CMT team failed to include in the projections originally presented to supervisors in June 2021, perhaps because serious negotiations with landowners appear to have been delayed for more than a year after the "final design" was approved.
Supervisors Leff and Hoffman moved to prevent any consideration of additional traffic studies we recommended prior to the June 2021 vote, a decision we presume must have been influenced by members of the CMT team. Barely 5 months later, the project engineers submitted a new task order to conduct some of the same studies we had earlier recommended. As a result, they now recommend some of the same traffic strategies we had urged Kennett to explore before approving the "final design" in June 2021.
The skyrocketing costs of the CMT have also forced Kennett to adopt budgeting strategies that raise concerns, described in detail elsewhere. In sum, more than $1.5M will be transferred from the general operating budget over the next two years to help pay for CMT (see snapshot from p.25 of the draft 2023 budget). This represents by far the single largest driver of the 20% tax increase proposed for 2023. Given that tax increases in 2023 are intended to make up a projected $430k shortfall for 2023, the additional $1M required from the General Fund to cover the anticipated shortfalls arising from CMT in 2024 appears likely to result in a tax hike in 2024 that is comparable, if not greater.
But these unprecedented transfers from the general fund barely cover half of the construction costs anticipated for CMT. As discussed in greater detail elsewhere, Kennett also proposes to draw an additional $1.5M from open space funding (see p.39 of the draft 2023 budget). This requires rapidly exhausting all but $100K of the more than $1M in Open Space funding slowly accumulated over the past decade to help maintain and improve open space. This also includes a $1M "loan" from the loan already taken by Kennett in 2018 anticipation of future open space acquisition costs. Kennett claims that this can be repaid by future open space maintenance proceeds. The problem? As we describe elsewhere, we project that Kennett cannot repay this "loan" for a decade or more. This means that that there can be no additional maintenance or improvements on parks and preserves across the Township for more than a dozen years.
And barring a change to the design, the total costs appear likely to rise still more. No design fees have been budgeted for 2023, though the continued adjustments all but assure that more design fees will be incurred. These estimates also exclude more than $500K in other work undertaken by the current design between 2020 and 2022, the previous work on CMT by Penn Trails, and the time spent by township staff and lawyers involved in negotiating the Right of Way with landowners. Altogether, the price tag for the 1.4 mile path looks set to exceed $7M. The costs of the 2.8 mile western section from Chandler Mill Bridge to Cypress Street now appear more likely to be pushed up to - or perhaps beyond - the $12M upper limit already projected. Will the supervisors begin to consider alternatives in development that can be easily quickly and easily piloted, with the potential for significant cost savings?