Building a boardwalk to bring more bicyclists and pedestrians from nearby neighborhoods to the Maitland SunRail station sounded like a simple solution to boost rail ridership, said the city’s public works director. But when bids came in to build it, he said, they busted the budget, ballooning to triple the initial estimated cost.
On Monday, June 22, the Maitland City Council voted to approve building the boardwalk anyway, authorizing $298,000 to pay for the project, which was originally slated to cost $105,000. The extra $193,000 that wasn’t budgeted for will be transferred from the city’s available fund balance.
“What I thought was going to be a simple project turned out to be rather difficult,” Public Works Director Rick Lemke said.
“…But it’s going to be so important to get more and more people to utilize that station that we thought the benefit outweighed the overage of the cost.”
The boardwalk will connect residents living to the west of the railroad tracks to the station by cutting through the wooded area where Marion Way intersects with Robinhood Drive in the Greenwood Gardens neighborhood through to the SunRail station platform.
Lemke said the boardwalk will be built similarly to the one just south of City Hall and the fire station, which connects that compound to the Maitland Public Library and Lake Lily.
The budget increase, Lemke said, came after the Florida Department of Transportation informed the city that in order for construction to take place in the rail right-of way, all contractors involved would have to be badged and licensed with security clearance and safety training relevant to working near the rails.
Lemke said each time workers set foot near the tracks, a railway flagman will have to be hired to warn of incoming trains, and all construction equipment will have to be cleared from the area every night when work ceases.
“Every time [the contractors] set foot in that right of way, it’s going to be an increase in the cost,” he said.
Lemke said construction is estimated to last two to three months.
Mayor Dale McDonald said though he isn’t a fan of the increased price of the project, he’s a proponent of getting it done and increasing city connectivity and access to the SunRail station.
Resident Todd Deery said, as someone who often rides SunRail and alternates biking, walking and driving to the station, he sees the additional access is a good thing.
“I certainly think it will make the station more useful,” he said.
“And as we all know the numbers for the Maitland station are some of the lowest on the line so I do think it would increase usage as well.”
The Maitland station continually falls in the bottom two stations in SunRail ridership numbers since the commuter rail system launched last May. In May 2015, ridership records show 3,729 riders jumped on board at the Maitland station, which is just more than half of the total riders logged total that month in neighboring Winter Park.
Lemke said the city hopes the increased accessibility to the station provided by the boardwalk will help boost those numbers.
“It gives access from that whole neighborhood area and that side of the tracks,” he said. “…And as much access as we can provide to that station the better off we are as far as encouraging people to ride SunRail.”