WAAP officials: Much of project slipping into 2019; $5 million cost hike seenAug. 12, 2018
The Westside Avenue Action Plan (WAAP) project needs more money and time.
The current budget of $35.5 million will require an infusion of "close to $5 million," project manager Dennis Barron of El Paso County told a meeting of the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) board
An accompanying memo to the RTA from Barron and County Engineer Jennifer Irvine notes that, while "most of the major elements" in WAAP will get done this year, full completion won't occur until May 2019.
The original prediction, when the project started in late 2016, was for full completion by December of this year.
Rebuilding about 1½ miles of Colorado/Manitou Avenue west of 31st Street (including utilities, storm drains and roadway), WAAP is being managed by the county as a team effort with Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs. The local RTA sales tax provides most of the funding.
The perceived need for an all-encompassing project in that part of the avenue corridor is reflected in its previous local nickname: No Man's Land.
A key aspect to be finished this year, according to the county memo, is the new Adams Crossing bridge over Fountain Creek at Columbia Road, which will replace the traffic bridge built in 1934. However, the schedule now calls for the new span to open in late September, about five months later than predicted as recently as last spring.
Project amenities being pushed into 2019 include sidewalks and driveways, the Ridge Road plaza, a water quality pond at Ridge Road, a pedestrian bridge over Fountain Creek, trail work, bus stops and final roadway paving, the memo states.
At the Aug. 8 RTA meeting, the county did not make a formal request for more money. That will happen in another two months, according to the memo, once the updated costs have been detailed.
It will be the second major project increase this year. The WAAP budget was announced as $30.9 million when the project began. In March, the RTA board agreed to increase that by $4.6 million, transferring funds from another project.
That's also true now. The memo states that out of a total of 99 originally identified property needs (since reduced to 92), only one was obtained before the project started.
The rest of them were to be in hand by this July, the WAAP project team had previously pledged to the contractor, Wildcat Construction. But in August, “property acquisition efforts are still continuing,” the county memo admits. “Wildcat has been very flexible in advancing work within available right of way and easements as obtained, but has had to revise phasing and prioritize much of the work from what was orginally planned.”
At the time of the memo (dated Aug. 8), 15 acquisitions were still being negotiated, the document reports. “Although most of the parcels have been straightforward, many have complications which further delay the acquisition and closing process.”
Issues have included changes in ownership, bank foreclosures, property-owner requests for minor changes and even “inaccessible or unresponsive owners,” the memo elaborates. Eminent domain, in which a government entity can force a purchase based on public need, has already been used once “and there may be others.”
The acquisition diffculties have caused an adverse "domino effect" for Colorado Springs Utilities and private companies needing easements to lay underground lines, the memo notes.
It also cites other reasons for higher costs. These include underground problems, such as searching for old utility lines and excavating large rocks; and higher than expected needs for flaggers and extra paving, related to the area having several major cross-streets and dozens of driveways that
Now, with the schedule being extended, that will mean more being spent on such items as employee salaries, subcontractors and equipment, the memo points out.
Barron told the RTA board that the weather hasn't done the project any favors, either. The heavy rains of late July and early August were “very rough on us,” he said. Although no structures were damaged, “there's been a lot of flooding. We're in recovery and cleanup mode.”
At the RTA board meeting, El Paso County Commissioner Longino Gonzales questioned the rising WAAP tab. He, like the other RTA board members, is an elected official. Gonzales noted that when voters reapproved the RTA sales tax in 2012, the project that would become WAAP had an estimated price tag of around $12 million.
“This is one of the biggest cost overruns we've had locally,” he said.
Irvine did not dispute that point. “I hear what you're saying,” she replied to Gonzales. “We're very conscious of the costs and we will continue to track them. But we don't want to have finger-pointing.”
Her memo, along with comments she made at the meeting, touched on the project team's strategy with the acquisitions. The usual government practice on contracts is to obtain easements first. But with so many needed for WAAP and construction costs spiking upward in late 2016, the project team decided to seek bids before costs got too high. The hope - vain, as it turned out - was that property negotiations could stay ahead of the project.
Also at the meeting, Tyler Stevens, a long-time Green Mountain Falls elected official who was on the original RTA board in 2004, tried to provide some perspective on the cost overruns, noting that there were “a lot of unknowns” when the project started, but at some point “we had to jump in there to solve the problem.”
In a 2016 Westside Pioneer interview, lead WAAP design consultant Steve Murray spoke to those unknowns. He said then that before the 2012 election, decisions had not yet been made on pivotal issues such as road width, bridge construction, trail layout, creek alignment, intersection reconfigurations, property acquisition and utility/stormwater undergrounding, which confounded a precise cost analysis.
Members of the public with questions or concerns about WAAP are invited to the next Coffee with the Contractor Wednesday, Aug. 29, scheduled from 5 to 6 p.m. at the Westside Community Center, 1628 W. Bijou St.
Westside Pioneer article