A budgeted extension of Falcon Drive hit a potential snag in November when city employees and the council learned that gas lines belonging to Ameren would need to be lowered at city cost.

The potential of an increased project cost for the gas lines and the road extension concerned council member Chris Williams. Those concerns continued Monday during a contentious discussion by council members.

The Falcon Drive extension is from Fairground to Amelia Drive in the Teal Lake subdivision. To properly install the extension, 3.5 feet of ground will need to be cut for the laying of the street and its supporting subsurface.

"Ameren has two gas mains that run down fairground and they're right in the project area," City Engineer Drew Williford said. "One is a 6-inch main that feeds the south half of Mexico and the other is a 4-inch main."

Land ownership was transferred to the city, but not the utility easements by Ameren, which is why the city is looking at a project cost of $31,524 to lower the mains. The Falcon extension project was budgeted for $55,000, and the lowering of mains could be an increased cost, totaling upward of $86,524.

If the project does end up going over budget, the city would look at reallocating funds from other projects to cover costs, Williford said.

The street extension will have transportation impacts, including for pedestrians. The extension provides a detour to Teal Lake Road via Falcon and Amelia drives if there were any traffic hindrances at the intersection of Teal Lake and Fairground. It also allows for an additional way to get in and out of Teal Lake Village, such as for emergency vehicles. Otherwise, the subdivision is an 866-foot long dead end street off of Teal Lake Road.

If there is any future development, there would be no choice but to do a Falcon Drive extension, council member Vicki Briggs said, noting she visited the potential project site after the November council meeting.

Williford also broke down potential pedestrian benefits for the extension and for future sidewalk projects along Teal Lake. The Teal Lake developer is willing to cover the costs of constructing sidewalks within the subdivision, he said. This originally would have been a city project. Land adjacent to Teal Lake is zoned as R-1 for any future residential development. If developed, it will need a safe transportation network, Williford said.

"The way we accomplish that is through proper planning and taking into account future development and growth in the area," he said.

Williams was concerned the scope of the street extension and its potential price tag still would not address the overarching pedestrian safety concerns along Teal Lake Road.

"There is no sidewalk from [the Hope Center] all the way to South Clark," he said.

The distance from South Clark Street along Teal Lake Road to the start of the sidewalk near the Hope Center is roughly 1,250 feet. A sidewalk within the Falcon Street extension is around 325 feet. A top priority for pedestrian safety should be a sidewalk along Teal Lake leading to South Clark, Williams said.

Council member Vicki Briggs could not see how a sidewalk in a different portion of land applied to the budgeted street extension.

"It's because we're talking about money. This [Falcon Street] project to me is $90,000. It's $90,000 that to me is a want," Williams said.

If there was a future residential development, a street extension would be necessary, Williams agreed, but he couldn't justify building an extension to an area that is not yet planned for development.

"Well shouldn't that [Teal Lake sidewalk] be part of the budget process," Briggs asked.

A sidewalk along Teal Lake should be a different part of the budget and what was suggested would be to take money from one planned project to one that has not been planned, she added.

"Why don't we go ahead and consider that extension there, where we're dropping the gas line, we should consider that first?” Briggs asked. “Eventually it's going to have to be done. This is apples and oranges we're talking about.”

Williams didn't see it the same way as Briggs. The project is about safety, and the extension doesn't necessarily have to be done at this time just because it's already in the 2020 budget, he said.

"It was not in the budget to do these gas mains. That's the first thing I started with was this was not in the budget. Period," he said.

Member Chris Miller agreed with Williams that while sidewalks along Teal Lake are needed, it would need planning and a potential different amount of money than the extension project. The city has contacted the apartment complex along Teal Lake owned by a property management firm from Farmington about a cost-share to build sidewalks along Teal Lake Road, but the owners have declined at this time, Public Works Director Kensey Russell said.

"So, that means that sidewalk is still somewhere down the road. I agree that sidewalk needs to be put in, but that's not exactly what we're talking about tonight," Miller said.

The Teal Lake sidewalk is a necessity, Mayor Ayanna Shivers said, but the extension project has been part of budget discussion from even before some members were on the council.

"It's about us moving forward. All of us were at the budget meeting when we approved that Falcon Street should be part of the budget and that extension of $55,000. Unfortunately at that time we were not aware we would need to lower those Ameren utilities. We shouldn't stop progress," Shivers said.

A decision on project approval was contingent on if Teal Lake developers would put in sidewalks, she added. The developers agreed, so it's now time for the present council to do its part, she said.

The Falcon Street project, including moving utilities was approved 4-1 in a roll call vote. Williams voted in opposition.

While he did vote to move forward with the project, council member Steve Nichols said during council comments, "I don't want people to think we're starting a precedent that if we start a project and it becomes too much money, we're going to keep on funding it just because we already started it.”

cdunlap@gatehousemedia.com