A long-awaited underpass project that would ease traffic in and out of Richmond's growing shoreline community is in limbo.
The uncertainty stems from a dispute between the city and the state Department of Finance over whether the Officer Bradley A. Moody Memorial Underpass project is an "enforceable obligation," a designation required to spend funds from former redevelopment agencies.
At the same time, the city has not accepted a competitive bid for the nearly $30 million project, which is named for a Richmond patrol officer killed in a 2008 traffic accident near the proposed site.
In a vote just past midnight early Wednesday, the City Council rejected one contractor's bid and directed staff to seek new bids while working with the Department of Finance to restore funding.
The clock is ticking, said the city's project manager, Chadrick Smalley.
The underpass is seen by city officials and area residents and developers as a crucial infrastructure upgrade in one of the city's newer communities. In addition to several thousands residents, Marina Bay is home to a growing commercial district, restaurants, National Park exhibitions and hundreds of boat docks.
But two of the main roads accessing the area, Marina Bay Parkway and Marina Way South, are crossed by heavily used railroad tracks, often ridden by long, slow-moving cargo trains.
The desire for an underpass dates to at least 2005, when the former Richmond
In February, the underpass project was advertised for construction bids, but the city received only one bid by deadline, according to Smalley.
The bid, submitted by Ghilotti Brothers Inc., came in at more than $30 million, according to staff reports, about $4 million more than independent estimates commissioned by the city.
Apart from the disparity between the city and the lone bidder, city officials notified residents last week that a determination by state officials has "snagged" funding for the project.
On May 25, the Department of Finance sent a letter to the city disapproving the underpass project for $6.2 million in former Redevelopment Agency funds. Redevelopment agencies statewide were dissolved by new state law and a concurring California Supreme Court ruling last year. The council's unanimous vote followed staff's recommendation to "reject the sole bid received and to readvertise the underpass for bidding only after the issue of funding is resolved or otherwise replaced by other funding sources."
Residents in Marina Bay have lobbied for an underpass for years. The Richmond Police Department is also in Marina Bay, and patrol cars often sit cut off from the central city for several minutes waiting for trains to pass.
"We need to impress upon the state Department of Finance that this project is critical to the safety of the 3,000 residents of the Marina Bay Community," wrote Stanly Anderson, president of the Marina Bay Neighborhood Council, in an email to neighbors Monday. "In addition, with an 18 percent unemployment rate, the project can be of tremendous value to the city. In the longer term, the underpass is critical to our qualifying to be a ferry service stop."
Richard Poe, owner of Virtual Development Corp., one of the largest commercial property owners in Marina Bay, said the underpass would be ideal, but if the project were derailed, the city still had other options to ensure that Marina Bay's growth would not be impeded.
In coming years, Poe said, he expects enhanced transportation, including ferry service linking Richmond and San Francisco, and commercial development spin offs from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory campus expected for completion on Richmond's south shore by 2016.
"It concerns me, but there are ways around this, maybe an overpass, and other routes around the tracks," Poe said. "This is not a ferry killer."
Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726. Follow him at Twitter.com/roberthrogers.