Twin Falls Urban Renewal Agency Approves Replacement of Deteriorating Utility Lines in Downtown

Monday, December 22, 2014

On Monday, Dec. 22, the Twin Falls Urban Renewal Agency board of directors voted to replace deteriorating utility lines in their existing location within the alleys along Main Avenue in Downtown Twin Falls. The upgraded utility lines will lay the foundation for continued redevelopment of the historic downtown area by replacing deteriorated utility lines that are almost 100 years old.

The board voted unanimously to replace the utility lines within the alley, which will allow easy access and maintenance of the utilities in the future. The board reached the decision after working with City and consultant engineers for several months to evaluate utility needs, the impact on downtown and its business owners, the cost to the agency and its partners, as well as several other factors that were critical to identifying the best solution.

"We looked at several locations to put this infrastructure and we have had a lot of discussion about this,” said Melinda Anderson, executive director of the Twin Falls Urban Renewal Agency. She added that the board of directors felt it was important to make a decision on Monday so as to keep the Main Avenue Redesign project on schedule.

Staff and consultant engineers, agency board members, and downtown stakeholders established several criteria to help with the decision, which included: capital cost, constructability, short-term liability, impact to private utilities, impact to business owners. ability to phase construction, cost of operation maintenance, and public health.

Using this criteria, the board was presented with options that included replacing and relocating utility lines underneath Main Avenue, or replacing existing utility lines beneath alleys that parallel Main Avenue — where the deteriorating utility lines are currently located. The board was also presented with sub-options such as replacing only some of the utility lines.

Costs ranged from $2.7 million to $5.6 million to replace utility lines - depending on the number of utility lines were replaced and where they would be located. The estimates were about $2 million more than was originally expected, however, the TFURA has said from the beginning that project costs are expected to change as the City and TFURA gain a better understanding of infrastructure needs.

The TFURA included money in the budget to pay for connections from the new utility lines to the meters of existing businesses, which will ensure that property owners in downtown are not left with a substantial bill to reconnect services.

The TFURA is also working with the City of Twin Falls as a partner to maximize the number of downtown infrastructure projects, such as major water and wastewater lines that also serve other areas of downtown.

The option that the TFURA approved is expected to cost about $5 million, but the board emphasized that costs may change as the agency delves further into the project.

“If we are going to do it, we need to do it right the first time,” said Bob Richards, TFURA board member.

The TFURA will tackle other infrastructure projects in Downtown Twin Falls to encourage redevelopment and revitalization efforts. Aside from utility lines, the board and engineers have identified sidewalks, landscaping and streets that may also be rehabilitated. The TFURA hopes to complete all the downtown projects before 2022, when the Revenue Allocation Area that collects funds for infrastructure improvements will be terminated.

On Monday, the board also approved a bond refunding to reduce the costs of its current bond. Once this bond is sold in early February 2015, the board will consider issuing a new $4 million bond to continue to pay for eligible downtown projects.

“We have done two things today that are important to keeping the downtown project moving forward,” said Leon Smith, chairman of the board of directors for the Twin Falls Urban Renewal Agency. "That includes moving a bonding process forward and making a decision on one of the most expensive parts of the downtown project.”