A project strengthening the Greene Street Bridge will cost more than three times as much as was originally estimated, forcing the city to divert $1.4 million that could have been used to fix other local streets.
City officials are blaming the overruns on a consulting firm that advised the city on the design of the project, David Evans and Associates, of Portland. At a City Council meeting last week, Councilwoman Amber Waldref advised administrators to gather a paper trail to pursue a legal claim against the firm.
Jan Quintrall, director of business and developer services, indicated legal action already is in the works.
The city, which does not have engineers on staff who design bridges, agreed in April to pay David Evans and Associates $140,000 to design the bridge upgrades. They agreed to pay the firm $44,000 more to continue advising them on the project in August and another $6,000 earlier this month.
The Greene Street Bridge, which links Market Street in Hillyard to Spokane Community College and Freya Street on the South Hill, was built in 1955. Its loads are limited to 76,000 pounds per vehicle. That limitation prohibits fire department ladder trucks from using the bridge, as well as some commercial trucks. After the upgrade, the city will allow vehicles up to 105,000 pounds on the bridge.
Quintrall said the city began to pursue the project in early 2012 after fuel companies informed city officials that they were forced to divert trucks through downtown because of the weight limits on the bridge.
The consulting firm estimated that the project would cost $670,000, but when bids were received this summer the lowest was $1.1 million. On Monday, after officials determined that extra work was needed, the City Council will be asked to approve a contract for an additional $988,000.
In the bidding process, one of the companies asked the city if existing cracks would need to be injected with epoxy. The city consulted David Evans and Associates, which said sealing the cracks would not be necessary, Quintrall said. That recommendation was presented to bidders before they submitted proposals.
After the construction company, Leewens Corp. of Portland, was hired and examined the cracks, company officials asked for another opinion. At the city’s request, David Evans and Associates reconsidered and determined last month that sealing the cracks was necessary, Quintrall said.
Spokane City Councilman Mike Allen said no David Evans and Associates representative visited the bridge before the city awarded the construction contract.
“It’s really disappointing that the consultant hired missed so badly on this project,” he said.
An attempt to reach a representative of David Evans and Associates was unsuccessful.
Spokane principal engineer Gary Nelson said in hindsight it seems unusual that the firm designed the upgrade without inspecting the bridge or determined that cracks wouldn’t need to be sealed without first seeing the cracks in person. But, he said, because the city doesn’t have bridge design expertise on staff, engineers trusted the firm knew what it was doing.
City officials planned to use a $700,000 federal grant to pay for the project. To pay for the overruns, the city plans to spend $1.4 million from its arterial street fund. That fund had about $5 million at the start of the year.
Several City Council members said they don’t believe blame lies with city engineering staff, including the leader of the engineering department, Kyle Twohig, who doesn’t have an engineering degree. They said they hired David Evans and Associates to provide the expertise the city doesn’t have.
This is the second time the city has questioned the consulting firm’s work. In 2010, David Evans and Associates paid $175,000 of a $750,000 mediated settlement to reimburse the city for flaws in the city’s vehicle fueling and washing center. An architectural firm and construction company paid the rest.
Then-Assistant City Attorney Rocky Treppiedi called the problem “an unfortunate incident involving folks who have provided good service in the past.”
The extra work for the Greene Street Bridge already has begun, even before the City Council has signed off on it.
Council President Ben Stuckart said he agrees that the project should move ahead but said he’s confused how the work can start without authorization from the City Council.
“They did not say we are going to start that work before council ever approves it,” Stuckart said.
Quintrall said with winter coming on it was important to start as soon as possible to avoid further complications. She said that while work in the new contract has started, the city is using money from the older contract. Like most construction contracts, an extra 10 percent of the cost was authorized for any overruns. Quintrall said the extra work hasn’t yet gone over that 10 percent authorization.
The overrun is so expensive in large part because the delays have forced the project into cold weather. In order for the epoxy to work, the bridge has to be wrapped and heaters brought in. The extra amount also is paying for security officers to guard the bridge when construction crews aren’t on the scene.