The Penitentiary Canal path, a popular section of the Boise Greenbelt, re-opened to the public Thursday, according to Ada County Parks and Waterways. Crews will continue to make Improvements on path’s shoulders, so Greenbelt users are advised to use caution throughout the weekend.
This story was originally published Wednesday, July 25 under the headline “Here’s what went wrong with a popular Greenbelt path and how soon it could be fixed.” The original story continues below.
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Ada County could complete repairs to the long-closed section of Greenbelt in East Boise by the end of this month.
The county has spent more than $2 million on a project to rebuild 1.65 miles of the popular pathway — piping the Penitentiary Canal, widening the formerly narrow route to 11 feet to make it safer and putting down an entirely new surface. The path has been closed since October and is a month behind schedule because of a construction error and resulting questions about how to fix the problem.
The entire rebuilt surface was topped with new asphalt Friday and Saturday. Once lines are painted, bollards installed and 2-foot-wide gravel shoulders hand-raked by an inmate work crew, the path from Shakespeare Way to Diversion Dam along the Barber Pool Conservation Area can re-open.
“The way we’re headed right now, before the end of the month is an attainable goal,” said Scott Koberg, the director of Ada County Parks and Waterways. “There’s a really good chance now.”
The county used an expedited procurement process to hire a contractor to repair the damage and avoid a bid process that would have pushed the opening date past Labor Day, said Dave Case, chairman of the Ada County board of commissioners. The county has heard complaints from users who are frustrated by the delayed opening.
Some users have ignored the closure signs and some notices informing the public of the delay disappeared.
The closed stretch connects Harris Ranch neighborhoods to Lucky Peak Lake and connects the East Valley and River Heights neighborhoods to Downtown. It’s also popular with long-distance road cyclists. The alternative is to ride on a narrow stretch of Warm Springs Avenue that doesn’t have consistent sidewalks or bike lanes.
“We cannot convey how much more frustrated Ada County is that this happened how it did,” Koberg said. “I’m a Greenbelt user. It’s tough handling kind of the ferocity of some of the interactions. The patience from a lot of other folks has been good.”
The path was set to open June 22. About a week before that, a contractor damaged the new asphalt while grading the gravel shoulders, according to county officials.
Granite Excavation was the contractor for the project. Granite President Josh Davis deferred any comment to the company’s attorney, who was unavailable this week.
“It happened in basically the course of half of a morning,” Koberg said. “It was going along really, really well. Things were going almost too well, so you expect something to happen, but not something to this magnitude that caused this type of chain reaction.”
The county asked Granite to stop working, Case said. The company tried to repair the damage with saw cuts and patches anyway, he said. That was a “non-approved effort,” Koberg said.
The engineering consultants hired by the county produced 273 pages of photos of damage to the path, Koberg said. The pathway is supposed to last 20 years but the expectation was closer to five years with the damage done, Case said.
Users who violated the closure complained that the path was in much better shape than what was there before and it should have been opened anyway.
“That’s the thing that is hard to convey to the public who was used to the former condition of the pathway,” Koberg said. “A lot of folks thought: ‘It’s in great shape now. What are you waiting for?’ Those who are responsible for getting this right, we look at it and say, ‘No, it doesn’t meet our standards.’ ”
The county spent several weeks determining how to repair the path and who was responsible for the fixes. Last week, the Ada County Commission voted to allow a “sole source” contract in the interest of public safety, in part because people were using the Greenbelt anyway. Idaho Materials & Construction, which was booked up for four months, was able to squeeze in the project on Friday and Saturday, Koberg said. IMC was the subcontractor that installed the first layer of asphalt but wasn’t involved in grading the shoulders, Koberg said.
The repairs involved cleaning out the saw cuts and placing another inch and a half of asphalt over the entire pathway, then contouring the ends to avoid a bump where the new asphalt meets the existing path.
The county plans to pay for the repairs by withholding the necessary amount from Granite Excavation’s contract payout, Case said. It’s possible that decision will lead to a lawsuit, he said.
“When you spend that much money on a project ... you want to do it right, you want to have a nice product for the public,” Case said. “We constantly get told how much we’re wasting taxpayer dollars. This is one of those projects, it’s going to be around a long time. It’s one of the gems of the county. People use it. Everybody loves it.”