AUGUSTA — A construction project meant to change the traffic flow of downtown Water Street from one-way to two-way — and reconstruct, repave and improve Commercial Street — is short of funding by more than $625,000.

The project also — until changes were made this week to extend the deadline for it to be complete — was lacking a contractor willing to take on the work, despite being put out to bid twice since last fall.

City officials said problems getting the project underway are tied to the absence of a contractor. In a memo to city councilors, City Manager William Bridgeo said contractors able to do the job are so busy and lacking workers because of the tight labor market that they told the city they couldn’t meet the deadline for completing the work.

He said five reputable construction firms attended pre-bid meetings and took out copies of plans and specifications for the project, so the lack of any response when bids were due last week was a surprise and disappointing.

When the city this week extended the deadline for the project out almost a year for substantial completion, it got two bids, including low bidder Sargent Corp. But Sargent’s bid on what initially was expected to be a $1.5 million project was more than $800,000 greater than the amount the city had budgeted.

“The reason we’ve been given for the high bids is basically the abundance of work out there right now,” Bridgeo said, “and the dramatic shortage of skilled trades workers throughout the construction and building trades industries squeezing how much work these companies can take on.”

In order to go ahead with the project, Bridgeo is proposing to councilors for a vote Thursday to cut $185,000 from the project cost by removing planned improvements to part of Cony Street.

That, however, still would leave a funding gap of about $626,000. To close that gap, Bridgeo proposes the city postpone some other planned capital improvement projects, using that funding for the downtown area work instead. That plan includes delaying a construction project planned on Cony Street to provide $139,000, delaying a planned Columbia Street reconstruction to provide $308,000, taking $138,000 from the paving budget, and using $40,000 left over from last year’s paving budget.

This photo, taken Wednesday, shows one-way traffic on Commercial Street in downtown Augusta. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

Michael Hall, executive director of the Augusta Downtown Alliance, said the group remains confident the project will move ahead and two-way traffic will be implemented downtown without lengthy delays. He said the difficulty in finding a contractor to take on the work within the city’s previous deadline is understandable.

“This is actually fairly typical and to be expected when experiencing a robust economy,” Hall said Tuesday. “Because of low unemployment and high demand, construction projects can often be delayed. However the funding for these projects is already there, and it’s simply a matter of re-prioritizing to ensure completion.”

This photo, taken Wednesday, shows one-way traffic on Commercial Street in downtown Augusta. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

The Commercial Street part of the project, the cost of which swelled from the previously budgeted $825,000 to $1.4 million, would rebuild the street and create wider sidewalks, put in more decorative streetlights and make the street a better fit, aesthetically, with the rest of the adjacent downtown area.

The portion of the project that would convert the mid-downtown section of Water Street from the current one-way traffic flow to traffic moving in both directions increased from $156,000 to $196,000. The work is expected to include upgrades to sidewalks and crosswalks, repaving of part of Water Street to cover old lane markings, new striping for the street and parking spaces lining it, updating traffic signals at the intersection of Bridge and Water streets and modifications to accommodate trucks turning at the Winthrop Street intersection.

Hall said both parts of the project will have tremendous benefits to downtown and the city at large.

The city first put the downtown conversion to two-way traffic out to bid late last year but received no bids, so officials decided to combine that project with the larger Commercial Street work in hopes it would draw out contractors interested in the work, and put it out to bid this winter.

Councilors meet at 7 p.m. Thursday in the council chamber at Augusta City Center.

Councilors also are scheduled to:

• Vote on a proposal to require some stores in Augusta in charge a 5-cents-per-bag fee for plastic shopping bags,

• Hear a report from the Comprehensive Plan Committee on its work updating the plan,

• Recognize Anita Gendreau Fecteau for her 100th birthday,

• Recognize the city’s Public Works Department for having a full year of no lost time, and

• Consider authorizing the Greater Augusta Utility District to work at night.

 

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
[email protected]
Twitter: @kedwardskj

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