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The collapse at Liberty Street
Jax Daily Record Thursday, Feb. 5, 201512:00 PM EST

Liberty Street cost unknown; 'found' money pitched for other projects

by: David Chapman

Money has been discovered recently for capital projects, but the City Council group digging deeper into past capital plans was concerned about a new and potentially more pressing need.

A Downtown street collapse along Coastline Drive at Liberty Street has left a gaping hole and nearby residents without power. An update on that issue was first and foremost for the council Capital Improvement Plan subcommittee Wednesday.

“If we are facing a huge financial obligation, we need to get in front of it,” said Lori Boyer, the group’s chair.

The presentation from Public Works Director John Pappas was brief, with few answers. The Florida Department of Transportation still has to analyze the scene — technically it’s a bridge — and the four components of that area are considered independent of one another. However, the cost of repairs will fall to the city, he said.

City spokesman David DeCamp said the transportation department could pick up some of the costs, but that wouldn’t be known until after the review.

How much won’t be known for some time and the timing likely won’t coincide with the work the council group is doing, Boyer said. What reports say about the extent of the damage would guide the reaction, Boyer said.

“If the report says that not only can you not just pick up debris, but leaving it open leaves potential for more structural damage … then for goodness sakes, it becomes a priority,” Boyer said.

That could mean dealing with the issue out of city reserves or borrowing new money, given how critical the situation could be.

The group did start to hear ideas on how money “found” in recent weeks could be spent on other projects. Of the $12 million or so sitting in a 5-year road program account, Public Works issued an initial list of priority projects that could use about $10 million.

They include another $2 million for road resurfacing, $500,000 toward sidewalk repairs, $1.9 million for bridge repairs and $1 million to restripe deficient roadways.

Boyer called the list a “starting point” for talks and said whether the funds should be spread around or spent on more expensive priority needs would have to be determined.

For example, an almost $1.5 million resurfacing project on the Northside was skipped because of its price, with funds instead spread around the city to accomplish more, cheaper projects.

That list likely will be shaped in the coming weeks and introduced as legislation.

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