“Design issues” and the city’s century-old streets have caused more than $1 million in increased costs to the Pacific Avenue Streetscape Project, city officials say.
The Tacoma City Council approved the cost increase on Tuesday – the same night the council authorized a $2 million increase to another project, the road work and stormwater fixes on Stadium Way.
City Manager T.C. Broadnax said later that the city will embark on a four- to six-month process to evaluate recent construction projects that have had cost overruns. He said he plans to share the results with the City Council and make recommendations for improvement.
The city also is looking to recover some of the Pacific Avenue cost overrun from AHBL, Inc., a Tacoma design firm that created the plans for the 10-block project downtown.
By the time the Pacific Avenue streetscape work in downtown Tacoma is done early next year, it will have cost $11.9 million, city officials say. The city is paying $4.9 million, with the rest coming from state and federal grants.
The city initially told the public in dozens of public meetings that the project would cost $8.3 million. What it didn’t say was that some of the features — such as the over-street lighting between South Seventh and South Ninth streets — couldn’t be bought at that price. City officials were hoping that more grant money would come along so the project could be built as presented.
Interim Public Works Director Kurtis Kingsolver said Friday that the city received enough grants and associated matching city funds to cover all of the planned project features, which raised the project’s cost before overruns to $11 million.
The $1 million additional cost approved by the council last week pays for additional construction required because of problems with the original design and unforeseen roadway conditions. Of that amount, $895,000 was not covered by the project contingency fund.
Project manager Mark D’Andrea said some of the increased cost could not have been anticipated. For instance, $250,000 was spent to remove five underground storage tanks that the city did not know were there.
But the most expensive problem was a faulty plan for the project’s 14 rain gardens, which include native plants and grasses and which filter water that eventually flows to the Thea Foss Waterway.
Chris Storey, a city engineer, said the initial design of the rain gardens would have flooded the vaulted basements below them. The vaulted spaces connect to adjacent buildings and are sometimes used as storage.
The problem, discovered by the city’s contractor – Tucci & Sons – during the installation of the first rain garden, resulted in the extra expense of $495,000 for work not included in the original bid.
The city also racked up unanticipated construction costs after having to redesign a sidewalk near 11th Street that had been drawn too steeply for federal Americans with Disabilities Act standards.
The project was not delayed by the design fixes, which AHBL did at no cost, Kingsolver said.
“They didn’t charge us, nor would we have allowed them to,” he said.
The city is paying AHBL more than $1.4 million for its work on the project, said Sue O’Neill, assistant division manager for the city’s public works department. AHBL’s duties, in addition to design, included hosting public meetings for downtown business owners and project management services.
Councilman David Boe said last week that it concerned him that the errors in AHBL’s original design weren’t caught sooner.
“That’s always disappointing to spend that much money on fees and miss some things like that,” he said.
Doreen Gavin, a principal for AHBL Inc., said historic plans for Pacific Avenue were not entirely accurate. For instance, an electrical conduit that carried wiring for street lights was encased in the curb’s concrete instead of alongside it.
Inconsistency in a project’s plans and the reality is “not unusual for old infrastructure,” Gavin said, but “it’s our company’s position that we take responsibility for our work.”
As for the city trying to recover costs, she said the company and the city “are just at the beginning stages of that discussion.”
Tim Tucci, project manager for Tucci & Sons, likened updating 100-year-old streets to “a really bad house remodel.”
“The history of that street and how long its been there until you unearth something you just don’t know what to expect,” Tucci said.
The city is halting construction on the streetscape project for the holiday shopping season from Thanksgiving to the end of the year. In early 2014, it will finish by installing benches, garbage cans, bicycle racks and artwork.Staff writer Kathleen Cooper contributed to this report.
Kate Martin: 253-597-8542