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City postpones West Main Project
West Main
The Turlock City Council decided to postpone the renovation of West Main Street until 2018 in order to receive better construction bids. - photo by Journal file photo

Following several community meetings regarding a rehabilitation plan for West Main Street, construction on the chosen design has been delayed after the Turlock City Council voted Thursday to reject a bid for the project that would have cost $2 million more than originally estimated.

The project, meant to be the City’s first Measure L (Local Roads First Transportation Funding) endeavor, will have two phases, and crews were expected to break ground in August.

Phase I of the project will include West Main Street from just past S. Walnut Road to West Avenue South. This section of road will receive an overlay similar to what was put on Monte Vista Avenue and all medians but two will be replaced, and a wrought iron fence will also be installed in the median adjacent to Osborn Two-Way Immersion Academy to encourage crosswalk use, similar to the fence installed in front of Turlock Junior High School.

While there was some discussion about aspects of the first phase of the project, three public meetings were held in January and February in order to receive public input on Phase II, which includes West Avenue South to Lander Avenue and the fate of the 100-year-old sycamore trees that line West Main Street.

At the first meeting, the community consensus was to save all of the trees and take out the street parking to make more room for the landscape strips, and at the second, the public took a vastly different stance, choosing to save the street parking at all costs. At the third and final meeting, 83 percent of participants chose a compromise plan which keeps parking on both sides of the street while saving as many historic sycamore trees as possible.

The compromise plan has all three of the sycamore trees removed on the south side of West Main Street, which would eliminate the current landscaping strip on that side and allow the road to shift to the south. Approximately four trees on the north side of West Main would also be removed due to making pedestrian sidewalk crossings Americans with Disabilities Act compliant.

After a plan was decided upon, the City began designing the project and in May advertised the West Main project for bid, with a bid opening date of June 13. Though City staff was still working on the project’s plan, the project needed to be advertised in order to meet the Aug. 1 construction start date.

There were several delays surrounding the plan’s completion, including the use of an outside engineer due to the loss of the City’s Land Surveying Technician. Also, an additional million dollars’ worth of improvements was added to the construction plans for underground utility infrastructure improvements around June 5, extending the bid opening date to June 19.

The project was originally estimated to cost $4.2 million by DF Engineering, but the lone bid received for the project from George Reed, Inc. of Modesto totaled just over $6.5 million. The difference of over $2 million could be used toward other road improvements, pointed out director of development services Mike Pitcock, like the recently repaved section of Monte Vista Avenue, which cost $1.3 million.

“While differences between bids and engineers’ estimates can happen, it generally isn’t this significant,” said Pitcock.

When asked by the City why their bid was significantly higher than expected, George Reed, Inc. stated that they are currently working on projects which they bid on in 2016 and early 2017. An excessive amount of work in the contracting community has caused costs to go up as well, they said, and added that the plans provided by the City for the underground infrastructure were not detailed enough, forcing them to increase their prices out of concern the costs were not estimated correctly.

The start date of Aug. 1 was also difficult for the company to meet, as their construction schedule is full this summer. Because of this, overhead costs were added to the bid because much of the work had to be subcontracted. Concern about the “unknown” contributed to the higher cost as well, since the area is over 80 years old.

“What I got out of them is that they couldn’t put together a bid that they felt was beneficial to them,” said Pitcock. “I don’t think that they fully expected to get the bid, but they did want to make sure they covered themselves in case they missed something during the bid process.”

Because of these concerns, the Council elected to reject the lone bid and re-advertise in the late fall, when contractors are setting their schedules for spring 2018. In postponing the project, the City will have adequate time to complete the plans with sufficient detail, said Pitcock, and the process will take place in what he described as a “better bidding climate.”

“I think that you put yourself in a better position to have better bids by waiting,” he said. “My professional opinion is that they will probably be much lower than this bid is today.”

After it was decided that the West Main Street rehabilitation plan would not break ground Aug. 1, Mayor Gary Soiseth expressed concern that other Measure L projects slated to be completed this year, including East Avenue and Golden State Boulevard, may run into similar issues.

“What is the strategy to make sure that we can meet those deadlines to try and get those completed in the first year?” he asked Pitcock.

Designs for the two upcoming projects will soon be underway, explained Pitcock, and the City will work with Municipal Services to ensure no last-minute addendums, like the underground infrastructure improvements, are added to the plans.

“I think the community needs to realize that the City of Turlock has a strategy of tackling some of our most-used corridors and arteries first, where it’s a lot harder to tackle those large roads that are being used versus smaller-scale projects like a slurry seal on a neighborhood road,” said Soiseth. “That’s what makes it a little more difficult to meet the deadline.”

He continued, “Overall, I think the Council shares the sentiment that it’s more important for us to be fiscally sound than to meet our self-imposed deadline of Aug. 1, and so we want to make sure we do this right.”