The Des Moines Metropolitan Planning Organization voted Tuesday to approve the contract for the first phase of the Scott Avenue portion of the ICON Water Trails project along the downtown Des Moines riverfront.

The MPO board voted 16-3 to award a contract to United Contractors and Reilly Construction for $40.9 million. Board members Len Murray of Pleasant Hill, Tom Hockensmith of Des Moines and Mark Hanson of Dallas County all voted no.

The first phase includes the in-water elements of the project, including the mitigation of the low-head dam and introduction of whitewater features. Work on that phase is expected to begin in spring 2023.

The bid was opened last week after two earlier attempts this year failed to attract bids, or to attract bids that were within the engineer’s estimate of $43 million.

The contract approval was the latest step for ICON Water Trails after the elements of the BUILD grant wererevised earlier this year, with the decision made to take a phased approach to the project.

The Scott Avenue section is the largest of the first phase of the initiative and is intended to create a safer, more user-friendly area for activities from kayaking to fishing. The other projects include boat launches and trails, among other improvements.

In total, ICON Water Trails is a $125 million effort to connect more than 80 sites along 150 miles of waterways in Central Iowa. It is funded through a combination of public and private dollars.

Board member Russ Trimble, mayor of West Des Moines, made the motion to approve the contract, calling the project a “complete and utter game changer for this region.”

“People are going to be flocking here,” he said. “I think it’s going to be huge for economic development and workforce development. I think it’s going to provide returns over and over again.”

The vote was not without questions about funding and management of the project.

Todd Ashby, executive director of the MPO, said the MPO has an agreement with ICON Water Trails and engineering firm Snyder and Associates for the management of construction.

“They [Snyder] have extensive knowledge on how to manage a construction project, so they will be assisting in the day-to-day part of that, and we’ll be providing the oversight and management of the contract,” he said.

There was some disagreement expressed by Hockensmith over Polk County’s role in management of the project, but it did not dissuade the board from approving the contract.

Maggie McClelland, director of ICON Water Trails, said $95 million has been secured in fundraising for the project, and all funding is secured to move ahead with the first phase of the project, including both the in-water and land elements of the Scott Avenue site and the Harriet Street access project.

She said there is a “solid plan for securing theBirdland Marina and Prospect Parkcomponents” of the projects, with construction at those sites scheduled to begin by 2027.

“We have grant sources identified for that,” said McClelland, who isleaving her role with ICONon Nov. 11. “We’re just not within those grant application periods at this point, but we have those sources identified to get those projects complete so that we fulfill all obligations of the BUILD grant agreement that is currently in place.”