Baker report kills the deal
Their report, released last summer, was a bombshell. The trestle was in far worse shape than previously thought, even after previous studies. The piers were cracked and crumbling, wooden beams split and rotting, steel beams rusting away.
Baker engineers said it would cost $12.8 million to fix all the problems and convert the bridge for walkers and bikers -- way more than supporters' estimates of about $3 million, and another $4.6 million to wash and paint all the steel.
Jones called it a deal-killer. Supporters with Friends of Kanawha Trestle Trail regrouped. Dennis Strawn, their spokesman, said the consultants included every possible repair in their estimates. On an apples-to-apples basis, they were only $1.6 million apart "to get it up and useful," he said. Strawn could not be reached for comment for this article.
The high numbers stuck in people's minds.
"When we started building momentum, we were assuming it would only cost $5 million to get it into use," Molgaard said. "Then we got an engineering report that said it would cost $15 [million] to $20 million. Federal money was drying up. Efforts to do this were dying on the vine."
Deadlines for spending the Capito and Byrd money were approaching, he said.
"The [Division] of Highways was encouraging us to do something: Are we moving forward on the project? Are we going to re-purpose it?
"There was also a $100,000 TE [transportation enhancement] grant for the trestle. We were going to ask for $200,000 for extending the lower [Boulevard] sidewalk up Elk River. They suggested we use that $100,000 and apply for a smaller amount. Now they're suggesting they might take the money back.
"With the Byrd appropriation, we'll have to seek congressional action to re-appropriate it, or else it will be lost. Our thinking is to re-purpose it to the Slack Plaza project."
Molgaard said he hasn't told CSX the city has put the trestle project on hold, and doesn't plan to. "There's never been any final agreement for the transfer of the property," he said.
It's unclear what, if anything, CSX plans to do with the trestle -- tear it down, sell it or continue to hold it as is. No one from CSX's media relations department in Jacksonville returned calls and messages from the Gazette this week.
Some people have suggested the company take whatever money it would cost to demolish the bridge and donate it to the trestle project. "I saw a letter from Dennis Strawn to CSX in 2009 making that pitch," Molgaard said. "That wasn't answered."
The Friends of Coal Trestle?
Lane tossed another pitch this week.
"CSX is the owner, CSX will hold all the liability if they have to tear it down, and CSX ought to step up and take a negative item on their balance sheet and turn it into a positive one," Lane said.
"A concept that I have, and I hope this will play out . . . the Kanawha trestle in its heyday was a focal point for transportation and coal in Southern West Virginia. I would hope that the industries would seize on that as an opportunity and make this part of their history today."
Lane didn't laugh when a reporter suggested a Friends of Coal Trestle.
"That's an idea I have. I have not talked with the Coal Association, but I have talked with people in the coal industry. They have much better contacts with CSX than I do. I would hope they could help get sponsorships."
City Councilman Chris Dodrill, chairman of the Charleston Land Trust, named the trestle project as a No. 1 priority for the group as recently as January. Now, he's mostly moved on.
"It's really unfortunate," he said. "That would have been a showpiece for the city. I hate to say it's officially dead . . . but the estimate we got was too much for the city to take on, with our pension liabilities and everything else.
"It doesn't seem likely, but if there's a way to restructure it with CSX, if an avenue for private money opened up, I'd enthusiastically back it."
He plans a discussion of what's next for the trestle project at the monthly Land Trust meeting today.
He can expect to hear some optimism from Lane.
"I think this is like other projects -- dream big, have it fit a larger goal," Lane said. "I don't have anything in hand now, but I'm encouraged."
Molgaard is more realistic. "It would be a nice amenity," he said.
"If something would change, I don't think anything would change with our willingness to move forward, but we have to know what the costs will be, what the maintenance costs will be, and we're just not there."
Reach Jim Balow at ba...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.