Columbia Avenue tender musings: Is parallel parking an inevitability?

Laurie Charlton
By Laurie Charlton
April 2nd, 2012

The date for receipt of tenders for the Columbia Avenue infrastructure project has been delayed – again.  So has council’s often-requested discussion about what to do about the project – particularly the issue of parallel vs. angle parking.

The latest delay comes about because the tender documents have been changed again.  There have been a total of five amendments to the documents since they were issued on March 8th.  The most recent changes were made on March 29 and 30, two and three days after the originally scheduled tender closing date.   How can the City expect contractors to make realistic bids when the requirements keep changing?

CAO Victor Kumar claims that tenders are often delayed.  Possibly, particularly when the project owner can’t get the documentation correct.  When significant changes are made at the last minute, potential contractors are placed in a difficult position when trying to estimate costs.  The natural response is to increase the contingency allowance which increases the cost of the project.  Since the City botched the grant applications for this project, taxpayers are left to pay for any increased costs.

One of the last changes was to eliminate any pipe-bursting from the contract.  Pipe-bursting, to enlarge the sanitary sewer under Columbia Avenue to accommodate anticipated increased flows from Red Mountain, was touted by the engineering firm ISL as a way to minimize disruption on Columbia Avenue during construction.  That proposal has now been flushed down the sewer.  I wonder why?  ISL had indicated that the final detailed design would be completed by the end of February.  There has certainly been no discussion about such a significant change in the proposal – at least not in public.

If such a change can be made in the plans after the original closing date for tenders and without any council discussion, why did Mr. Kumar recommend that any discussion about parallel parking be delayed until after tenders were received?

Council has dithered for months about what to do about the streetscaping and parking along Columbia.  Their reluctance to make a decision will probably result in the City getting parallel parking whether the community wants it or not.  While a couple of staff members, Bill Profili and his tiny band of yea-sayers and a few others appear to be in favour of parallel parking, the vast majority of citizens and business owners are opposed as amply demonstrated by the petition with over 600 signatures that was submitted to council. 

In spite of the widespread community disapproval of parallel parking, council still maintains the pretext that they don’t need to amend the project until after tenders are received. 

Mayor Granstrom made a feeble attempt to remove parallel parking from the tender documents after council held an in-camera meeting and approved going to tender.  Why did council have an in-camera discussion about an issue that has no basis for being held in-camera?  

Part of the in-camera meeting was supposed to be a review of the tender documents prior to agreeing to issue them.   I doubt that any council members actually looked at the plans and documents.  If they had, they would have realized that the tender offers no opportunity for potential contractors to provide separate costs for the parallel vs angle parking options. 

This is not surprising. When CAO Kumar recommended to council earlier this year that the City proceed to tender, he offered only three options: (1) go to tender using the ISL design; (2) abandon the project; or (3) initiate an alternative approval process (AAP) before going to tender.

Going to tender using the ISL design meant that the City would get parallel parking.  That’s what council agreed to do.  While Mr. Kumar suggested to council that they pick one or the other option before the tender was issued, Mayor Granstrom and other council members naively assumed that they will be able to choose an option after the tenders are received.  It won’t happen.

Switching from parallel to angle parking will require a redesign of the project and the approval of the Ministry of Transportation.  Since contractors are only bidding on one option, any change will require re-opening tenders to get new costs for the change.  That would delay the start of the project and possibly its completion by the time the snow flies in the fall.

Some other costly, but unnecessary, items in the tender are also part of the project and can’t be removed without re-tendering.  These include the underground irrigation system for all the new trees and hanging baskets along Columbia Avenue.  ISL originally estimated the cost of this system, which was supposed to use recovered storm water, at about $300,000.  They also estimated that the system would result in savings in wages of only about $5,000 per year.  That’s a payback period of at least 60 years.  Nobody makes an investment for a payback that long.

By the way – the irrigation system will no longer use storm water.  Instead, it will be tied in to the potable water system via a water meter.  The location of the connection (and thus the actual cost) is unknown until council decides whether or not the first block of Washington will be part of the project.

This project has been mismanaged right from day one.  Unfortunately, the citizens of Rossland will have to deal with the consequences for many years to come.

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