Last week, East Ridge officials opened bids for the widening and partial raising of Camp Jordan Parkway, and they were shocked at the results.
First, there were only two bids entered for the project, which will take the road from two to four lanes and add a grass median.
And second, each bid came in at more than $2 million — or, $1 million over what was budgeted for the project.
The road will feed into Jordan Crossing, the 50-acre mega commercial retail development to be anchored by Bass Pro Shops. Jordan Crossing is East Ridge's take on border retail development, and will consist of a dozen or more stores and service outlets, likely including at least one new hotel.
The project opened the door for East Ridge to take advantage of state tax incentives through legislation designed to get major projects to come to Tennessee instead of its neighbors.
Now, the city is bracing for the estimated influx of traffic and visitors, and officials see Camp Jordan Parkway improvements as an important first step.
The city is reopening the invitation to bid on the widening of the road, and this time will tone down the frills and extras in order to hit the $1 million target they expect to spend.
"We had the most fabulous road project you could ever think of," said Brent Lambert, mayor of East Ridge, on the project plan previously submitted. "That's what we were asking people to bid on."
He said the original project specs — which included antique-style metal light posts and the highest-grade asphalt available — came from suggestions from Exit One LLC, the East Ridge Bass Pro Shops developers, but drove the cost of the road too high.
Lambert also said the city probably closed bidding on the road widening too soon to get enough entries.
But city officials learned from that experience, he said, and have gone back to the widening project with the attitude that "if a road [alone] costs $1 million and that's all we can afford, that's all we're going to have."
"We all want a quality road," said Lambert. "It doesn't have to be the most opulent road in Hamilton County, but it's going to be a nice road."
The widening of Camp Jordan Parkway from two to four lanes is part one of a larger project to untangle Exit 1 and make getting to the new Jordan Crossing development from the Interstate faster and easier.
The city is leading the project, with some financial help from both the county and the state.
Hamilton County leaders have promised $1 million to help fund the umbrella Exit 1 project and set aside $500,000 of that for the widening of Camp Jordan Parkway alone.
East Ridge leaders budgeted $500,000 of East Ridge money to go with the $500,000 of Hamilton County money to bankroll the estimated $1 million Camp Jordan Parkway widening project, which also calls for one end of the road to be raised slightly.
There will be around $500,000 of Hamilton County money left for improvements to Exit 1.
And that money will be added to $1 million of Tennessee Department of Transportation money pledged exclusively by the state for the improvement of Exit 1.
"TDOT will provide a portion of the funding through our Local Programs Development Office to improve the interchange at Exit 1 by reworking the part of the interchange that is nearer to Camp Jordan," said Jennifer Flynn, TDOT spokeswoman, in an email.
Lambert said the improvements to Exit 1 itself are somewhere down the road, probably in 2016 and 2017.
The Camp Jordan Parkway widening project, meanwhile, he hopes will be underway by next month.
Lambert hopes the city will open new bids for the project in the next three-and-a-half weeks. Camp Jordan Parkway will close to the general public before the project begins, and will hopefully be re-opened by April or May, he said.
Lambert also said Bass Pro Shops is still expected to be finished by the middle of next summer. Developers recently announced a new Zaxby's restaurant to open near the future outdoor mega-store, and Lambert said other tenants are close to being finalized.
Contact staff writer Alex Green at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6480.