ICON Water Trails will move forward under a more phased approach after receiving approval to revise the scope of work to be done under a $25 million federal BUILD Grant that was awarded for the project.

The $125 million initiative is being funded through a combination of a capital campaign and public money. It includes the development of projects that connect more than 80 sites along 150 miles of rivers and creeks in Central Iowa.

One of those funding sources is a $25 million BUILD grant that was awarded by the Federal Highway Administration in 2019 to help fund projects at Scott Avenue, Prospect Park, Birdland Marina and Harriet Street in Des Moines.

An earlier request for proposals received no bids, so a second request went out and the deadline was extended until March 29. Only one bid was received, for $72.9 million. That bid was subsequently rejected because it was too high.

That caused officials with the Des Moines Metropolitan Planning Organization, which is administering the BUILD Grant, to meet with ICON officials and the design team to review cost differences and discuss steps to move the project forward.

As a result, the MPO sought permission from the office of the secretary of transportation to adjust the scope of work to be done under the grant. That approval was received on June 3.

The BUILD grant will now be used only for the Scott Avenue portion and a scaled-back version of the Harriet Street portion of the project. The Prospect Park and Birdland Marina projects will be funded outside of the grant using other sources, said Gunnar Olson, manager of communications and strategy at the MPO.

“We regrouped, and the plan to go forward was to revise the scope of the BUILD grant. So in order to go ahead and do that we needed that revised grant agreement to be approved by the office of the secretary of transportation,” Olson said. “That's the process that we had been going through for the past month or so. We got that approval, so now we can go forward with going out for bid again, with a revised scope.”

The Scott Avenue bridge 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.

The tentative schedule is now for the Scott Avenue project to be bid separately later this year with a contract being awarded in November. Work would begin when conditions allow in the spring of 2023. The Harriet Street project would be scaled back to only include adding a parking lot, improving boat access and a kayak launch. Other amenities will likely be added in the future.

A stipulation of the revised contract is that the Birdland Marina and Prospect Park work must begin by Sept. 30, 2027. Those projects will be bid at a later date.

Maggie McClelland, director of ICON, said the project has struggled with increased costs because of inflation and with supply chain issues, forcing organizers to take a more phased approach to getting the work done.

“We were facing some pretty incredible impacts with everything that’s happening right now, but we didn’t want to let go of this opportunity that was before us and wanted to hang on to the momentum we've seen over the past couple of years,” she said.

McClelland said moving forward on the Scott Avenue project is critical for the future of the downtown projects to provide that connection to Fleur Drive and Center Street projects.

“This has not changed the overall scope of ICON,” she said. “We still have every intention of doing the other portions that were originally included in the BUILD grant agreement. We’re just going to have to delay those a little just to tackle what we have before us.”

“Despite us having to do some of these changes or maybe heading for a phased approach, this is merely reactionary of what is happening in the world right now,” McClelland said. “This is a solution for us to be able to continue moving in that forward motion with the project based on the impacts that we’re seeing.”

McClelland declined to give updated cost estimates for Scott Avenue and Harriet Street projects to maintain a competitive bidding environment.

“Over the course of the last couple of months as we figured out our best path forward, it has also forced us to look at what is our available funding to make this a viable project, so fortunately we do have the funding covered to move forward with the revised scope that we put forward of the Scott Avenue project and a condensed version of the Harriet Street project,” she said.

Olson said changes like this are not unexpected on a project of this size.

“If this were easy to do, it would have been done a long time ago,” he said. “On projects of this magnitude, it's not a straight line. It's get it down the field a ways and then adapt to the conditions and go down a little farther and adapt to the conditions, and that's what we've been doing.”

Photo above: A view near where the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers converge at the Scott Avenue bridge in downtown Des Moines. Photo by Duane Tinkey