Talks continue between city officials and an unidentified engineering firm that is seeking to create a new design for the Belmont Bridge.

“This is a major project, and we have not reached a final agreement yet on the scope of work relative to the proposed fee,” said Alexander Ikefuna, the city’s director of Neighborhood Development Services.

The existing bridge was built in 1961 and has a sufficiency rating of 40.8 out of 100 from the Virginia Department of Transportation. In 2012, the rating was 47.6, indicating the structure is continuing to deteriorate.

A black metal fence was erected on the eastern side of the bridge in April 2011 to stop people from walking on the deteriorating sidewalk.

The now-defunct firm of MMM Design had been hired in 2009 to develop a replacement.

Public discussion of their concept devolved into an argument about whether Avon Street should be placed below the railroad tracks with an underpass as an alternative approach.

City Council voted in July 2014 to proceed with a bridge, but city officials did not issue a request for proposals for an “urban design plan” until last November. The request states the new structure must be shorter than the current 440-foot-long span.

At the time, Ikefuna said “time is of the essence” to replace the bridge.

Firms had until Jan. 22 to respond. A subgroup of the Belmont Bridge Steering Committee has been meeting in closed session to discuss the 11 bids that were received.

A top firm has been chosen, but the identity can be withheld from the public because contract negotiations are exempt from Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act.

“The interview process has been great,” Ikefuna said. “[The committee’s] questions included expectations, communication modality, surrounding current redevelopment efforts and land uses, existing plan documents, citizen engagement system, potential stakeholders, political considerations, project management and accessibility.”

On April 27, Ikefuna told Dexter Auction that the city was in the negotiation phase for the project. At the time, he said that would take about 45 days but now says more time has been needed.

“We have to do what it takes to reach a point of agreement,” Ikefuna said. “The burger is still on the grill and it’s not done yet.”

Ikefuna said that if negotiations fall through, there are other choices.

“We are fortunate to have gotten excellent proposals, and a lot of the proposers could easily be the candidate for the job,” Ikefuna said.

The request for proposals extended to more than just the bridge. The chosen firm also will be required to provide a plan for how pedestrians and cyclists will navigate the whole area.

The construction project will be managed by the city under the Urban Construction Initiative.

VDOT’s Six-Year Improvement Program database shows almost $14.5 million available in funding for the project. Ikefuna said it is not possible yet to calculate an estimate because there is no design yet.

The request from proposal states that the final design is expected 15 months after the process begins.

VDOT has changed the way it allocates funds and the city might have to apply for funding through the new SmartScale system mandated by the General Assembly. The next application period for the program formerly known as HB2 runs from Aug. 1 to Sept. 30.

“Funding would be dependent on how well the project scores on factors such as congestion mitigation, safety and accessibility,” said Stacy Londrey, spokeswoman for VDOT’s Culpeper District.

However, because the bridge is deteriorating, it may qualify for another pot of money.

“Because it is structurally deficient, Belmont Bridge would also be eligible for State of Good Repair funds set aside for locality-owned bridges,” Londrey said.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board established the fund earlier this month to bring the same priority-based process to maintenance projects.

The CTB also awarded the city $29.5 million for three streetscape projects that had been vetted through the SmartScale system.