The Virginia Department of Transportation awarded a contract to replace a bridge on Jefferson Park Avenue Extended only after Charlottesville’s City Council agreed to transfer money from the Belmont Bridge project.

“The lowest bid that came back was $1.2 million over the budgeted amount for the [JPA] project,” City Manager Maurice Jones said at a recent council meeting. “VDOT [came] back to us and asked us to find the money somewhere else to help pay for it.”

R.R. Dawson Bridge Co. of Lexington, Ky., was awarded the bid and will construct the bridge at a cost of $5.8 million. VDOT said in a press release that the project is to be completed by March 30, 2012. Construction of a temporary pedestrian bridge will occur first.

Jones offered the council two options to fund the cost over-run. Councilors could choose to transfer funds from an account for the Belmont Bridge replacement, or they could take the money from the Capital Improvement Program’s contingency fund. Jones recommended the first option because it would free up state funding.

“Once the JPA bridge is out of the way, the Belmont Bridge will become the No. 1 bridge project for us in the eyes of VDOT,” Jones said. That would make it more likely to receive funding from a special VDOT “revenue-sharing” fund that provides a dollar-to-dollar match of local money.

The cost estimate for the Belmont replacement is $9.2 million, according to Jeanette Janiczek, the city’s transportation planner. Currently, the city has saved $5.3 million towards the project, but regular funding is not expected from VDOT until at least the year 2018.

Many construction projects have had bids come back under the cost estimate, but that is not the case with the JPA bridge replacement. When councilors asked why, Jim Tolbert, director of Neighborhood Development Services , responded that the over-run is the result of requests by Norfolk Southern, whose railroad JPA Extended crosses.

“The railroad put in a lot of things that they required to happen that were last minute and not factored into the construction estimates,” Tolbert said.

Norfolk Southern has no obligation to the project.

“They look at it like it is their railroad and we’re messing with it,” Tolbert said. “It’s VDOT’s responsibility to accommodate them.”

Councilor David Brown was initially skeptical of the move but ended up voting for it.

“I don’t want someone to misinterpret that we’re not taking seriously the need to replace the Belmont Bridge,” Brown said.

JPA Extended is a major entrance corridor for the University of Virginia. The city has created a plan to manage the traffic when the bridge is closed.

“Interstate 64 should be used as the official detour,” said Jeanette Janiczek, a transportation planner for the city. She added that Shamrock Road will not be part of the official plan.

The current bridge was built before 1932 and has deteriorated over time. It has a posted 10-ton weight limit, which means that fire trucks and other emergency equipment cannot cross it. The replacement will be 67 feet wide and will include dedicated bike lanes and safer sidewalks.

A series of meetings to kick off planning for the Belmont Bridge replacement was scheduled to continue tonight with a neighborhood meeting in the CitySpace meeting room in the Market Street Parking Garage.