Apr 8, 2022 - News

Another setback for central Iowa's $125 million water project

A photo of the Des Moines River.
The confluence of the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers in December 2020. Photo: Brian Powers and Kelsey Kremer/The Des Moines Register via Imagn Content Services

A second attempt to contract out the first part of a $125 million water recreation trails project in central Iowa has fallen flat.

Why it matters: Bidding already failed once for the inaugural piece of the Iowa Confluence Water Trails (ICON) project.

  • Project officials didn't receive any bids late last year, and City Councilperson Joe Gatto warned in January that finances could unravel if this latest bidding process is unsuccessful.

Catch up fast: The project, which has been in planning stages for years, would create amenities like boat launches and whitewater runs for paddling throughout a 150-mile network of creeks and rivers in central Iowa.

  • At least $56 million has been raised or designated for the project so far, including a $15 million grant announced earlier this year by Gov. Kim Reynolds.

State of play: United Contractors and Reilly Construction Company bid $73 million to complete what is arguably the most significant section of the project along a five-mile stretch of the Des Moines River through downtown.

  • It includes modifying a low-head dam at Scott Avenue and improving access at Prospect Park, Birdland Marina and Harriet Street.
  • But the bid came in too high and will be rejected, said Gunnar Olson, a spokesperson for the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), which is behind the trails project.

The intrigue: Project officials would not say how much the bid is over their estimate.

  • The Federal Highway Administration advised that the estimate be kept confidential to preserve the competitive bidding environment for potential future bids, Olson told Axios Thursday.

Of note: ICON officials did not respond to Axios' requests for comment Thursday.

What to watch: The goal earlier this year was for construction to begin as early as June and complete in 2024, but now the project's future is uncertain.

  • The cost differences will be discussed among project managers who will define the next steps to move the project forward, Olson said.
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