City seeks bids for building Baker Ave. pedestrian underpass

by Heidi Desch
Whitefish Pilot | April 22, 2020 1:00 AM

City Council earlier this month approved the design plans for the Baker Avenue pedestrian underpass at an estimated cost of $1.6 million. It also authorized going out for bids on the project.

Council in February held two work session with WGM Group, the engineering firm designing the project, to narrow down the design of the underpass that is planned to span under Baker near the O’Shaughnessy Center connecting the city’s path off of Railway Street to Depot Park.

Council on April 6 gave the go-ahead for the design, which is 60% complete, allowing for the bidding process to be readied.

The selected design calls for a concrete underpass spanning 20 feet wide with wing walls designed to have a stone look. The underpass will also include lighting.

Concrete will offer a clean, durable underpass with the opportunity for future design elements such as art projects, Public Works Director Craig Workman said of the design, and the 20 foot span meets the goals of the downtown master plan.

“A structure of this size will still be airy and bright and allow for visibility through the underpass form Depot Park to the west side of the viaduct,” he said.

The wing walls hold soil back to create an entrance on either side of the tunnel. The design calls for Redi-Rock Ledgestone system that uses blocks to provide a random, stacked stone.

Workman said the system strikes a balance between aesthetics and cost effectiveness and will provide character and functionality for the project.

Lighting for the underpass includes LED lighting for the interior of the structure, downlights along the wing walls to promote safety, and accent the decorative stone. Path lights will also be provided along path leading up to the underpass.

“Adequate ambient day lighting, accent lighting for the walkway, and special facade lighting have been incorporated into the design,” Workman said.

The project also incorporates security cameras linked to 24-hour surveillance.

The city currently has $1.4 million set aside in tax increment finance funds to pay for the underpass, and says additional funds could be available for the project from TIF. The city must be under contract for the project before its TIF district sunsets on July 15 to use those funds.

Workman said typically his department would wait for a final design before seeking Council approval, but the shortened timeline due to the end of the TIF district necessitated early approval to solicit construction bids.

The city’s downtown master plan and bicycle and pedestrian master plan both call for the construction of the Baker Avenue underpass to serve as a link connecting the Railroad District to Central Avenue, and also as creating a critical link in the city’s bike path system.

BNSF Railway in the fall gave its OK for a license agreement that would permit the city to construct the underpass.