By Kendal Groner

Since 2006, there has been discussion about building a tunnel under Harris Hollow Road that links part of the existing Linear Park Trail to Fishery Park. The tunnel would create a shared use path and provide recreational access for bicyclists and pedestrians to access current segments of the trail.

In their Monday, Oct. 9, meeting the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen unanimously voted to accept a bid from Summers-Taylor Construction in the amount of $996,965.15 to construct the tunnel.

The board received a total of four bids for the Harris Hollow Tunnel Project. Adams Contracting placed a bid at $1,593,885.75; Thomas Construction placed a bid at $1,164,985.95; Inline Construction placed a bid at $1,235,503.50; and Summers-Taylor placed a bid at $996,965.15.

“Even with all of the new monies and the low bidder, the end result is that if the project goes to the exact cost, it is still above the original 20 percent match on our part of $28,876.75, and that nearly $29,000 is the responsibility of the town,” said Glenn Rosenoff, City Recorder.

The town budgeted $1,077,088 for this project; however, additional fees for engineering upped the total cost to $1,127,965 – or $28,876.75 more than budgeted.

Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley questioned whether there was anything in the bid that could be negotiated or left out to try and reduce costs.

“At this point, where we are in the project, it brings up issues because you are a public entity and you begin to negotiate with the contractor either before or even after you award the bid, it can be claimed as unfair bidding practices,” said Jonathan Shipley, project manager. “With that being said, there are some avenues that could possibly reduce the cost to the town. However, I don’t think there is enough funding in there to bring the project back within budget. In the event the town would like to pursue some other avenues, the project would probably need to be rebid again.”

Funds from the Tennessee Department of Transportation totaling $885,271 will be used for the trail extension project. The town will have to provide a 20 percent match.

Mayor Hensley inquired how long the construction would last and Shipley reported that the construction project is for 180 calendar days.

Alderman Mark Lafever asked Shipley if inclement weather could possibly affect the construction in the coming months.

“Due to the nature of the project being mostly excavation, more than likely the majority of construction early on should revolve around the tunnel itself under Harris Hollow,” Shipley said. “They should be able to continue with excavation during some minor wet weather occurrences. As far as paving and fine grating, which wouldn’t occur until the end of the contract, there shouldn’t be any major delays expected.”

Half of Harris Hollow Road could be shut down at any time during construction, but one side of the road will remain open. Only minor traffic obstructions would be expected.

“I think that what we budgeted for overall with capital projects this fiscal year, I think we will be able to meet the needs for this project and be okay. I’m optimistic we will have sufficient funds for this,” said Rosenoff.

Rosenoff recommended to the board that they move forward with construction and select one of the bids.

“I think there’s a lot of folks that want to see that link between the park and trail also, I know we’ve been talking about it for a long time,” said Lafever. “Everyone has been talking about how good it’s going to be, especially once we start working on the park. Because pricing and costs aren’t going to go down, I’m going to go ahead and make a motion to accept the low bid from Summers-Taylor.”

Lafever made a motion, seconded by Rachelle Hyder-Shurtz to accept the low bid by Summers-Taylor. The motion unanimously passed.

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The board also approved an ordinance to rezone property located on Ohio Avenue from R-1 (low density) residential district to R-1A (single family) residential district. The Erwin Planning Commission heard the first reading on Sept. 27 and recommended the rezoning.

The corner lot to be rezoned has an old historic home that realtor-developer Andy Baxter is looking at renovating. He is also looking at adding another craftsman style home to the property. The classification of the Ohio Avenue property as an R-1 district permits single family residences, whereas the R-1A district will allow for two family dwellings.

The board also approved an ordinance to rezone certain properties located on Carolina Avenue, Pond Street, Broyles Avenue and Kentucky Street from B-1 neighborhood business district and R-3 (high density) residential district to B-2 arterial business district. According to Rosenoff the rezoning was at the request of both property owners and the B-2 zoning classification will allow for things such as offices to be considered acceptable amenities.

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In other business, the board also approved a resolution supporting the national park system and appointed Ron Tracy to fill a vacancy on the Unicoi County Public Library Board of Trustees.