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Time for DTA to build multi-modal transit center in downtown Duluth?

 Jim Heilig, director of administration for the Duluth Transit Authority, is eager to start work on a new multi-modal transit center, but higher-than-anticipated construction costs have delayed the project, which originally was to have begun last year.

He’s hoping to finally receive a green light today, when the DTA’s board of directors will gather for a special meeting to consider an agreement with Mortenson Construction and LHB, an engineering and architectural firm in Duluth. That agreement would establish a guaranteed maximum price for the project.

The transit authority had aimed for a guaranteed maximum price of about $25 million, but Heilig said that at last review the project came in “just a shade over

$27 million.”

With some economizing and final design changes, Heilig expects a workable plan will emerge, although he acknowledged it still was coming into focus

Tuesday afternoon.

“While we need it to be a little less expensive, we still want a high-quality project, because we plan to maintain this building for years to come,” Heilig said.

Continued delays could prove costly for the transit center.

“After years of being flat, construction costs are starting to jump up a tad,” said Heilig, noting that industry-wide project costs are up about 5 percent from last year.

With Duluth’s relatively short summer, Heilig stressed the importance of getting going soon. He hopes workers can begin demolition of an existing parking ramp at the intersection of Third Avenue West and Michigan Street in June and start driving steel pilings for a new structure immediately thereafter. Heilig said the goal is to get the concrete platform at the Michigan Street-level of the structure poured before cold weather arrives.

“Every day helps,” he said.

The transit authority had sought to build a 7 to 8 percent contingency cushion into its construction budget, but Heilig said it has been challenging to do that.

“The project costs have eaten into our contingency funding, so we want to limit our risks as we go forward. You never know exactly what you’ll find when you start digging in Duluth,” he said.

The project includes replacing a skywalk dubbed the Northwest Passage that connects Duluth’s downtown with Amsoil Arena, and Heilig said that component has proven to be particularly complicated and expensive.

As designed, the multi-modal transit center will contain a parking ramp, a storage area where commuters can stow their bicycles, a waiting area and a police substation.

If you go What: Duluth Transit Authority board meeting to consider possible agreement for construction of multi-modal transit center

Where: 2402 W. Michigan St.

When: 4 p.m. today