This story has been modified since its original publication.
WALLA WALLA — Downtown’s highest profile summertime construction project has run into a financial roadblock.
Officials have momentarily hit the brakes on plans for that makeover on Alder Street — including a switch to angled parking, installation of three new updated traffic lights, new asphalt and new lamp posts — because the one bid received came in at nearly $600,000 over projection.
The proposed $2.7 million Alder Street project stretches from Sixth Avenue to Palouse Street and contains various elements that overlap.
STRIPING AND ANGLED PARKING
The entire project from Sixth to Palouse will receive new striping. In the section between Fifth and Spokane, the striping will also include reconfiguring down to two lanes and angled parking, which will provide 60 parking spaces.
New traffic lights will be installed at First and Third avenues and Colville Street
A complete road resurface with a grind overlay will take place from Third Avenue to Palouse Street.
Work at Third and First avenues and Colville and Spokane streets will include the additions of bulb-outs, ADA upgrades and crowning repair for roads.
New street lamps will be added between Third Avenue and just east of Spokane Street to match the current lamps on Main Street
Highway Safety Improvement Grant — $502,000 for new traffic lights
Surface Transportation Grants — $354,000 and $1,026,014
Port of Walla Walla Economic Development Grant — $200,000
Stormwater Utility funds — $44,500 for improvements to storm drains
Real Estate Excise Tax — $155,000
Transportation Benefit District — $300,000 for repaving
General fund — $145,000
TOTAL — $2,726,514 with design work
The bid from Central Washington Asphalt of Moses Lake came in at $583,910.50 over the engineer’s construction estimate of $2,212,283. A second bid from Humbert Asphalt of Milton-Freewater was submitted five minutes after the cutoff and was not accepted or reviewed.
With a majority of the funding for the transformation coming from grants and other outside resources, city officials say the money isn’t in the budget to make up the difference right now.
At its meeting Wednesday the Walla Walla City Council unanimously voted to reject the bid. A second motion by Councilman Jim Barrow to give staff authority to move ahead with a second bid this year if possible was approved.
When it comes to completing the project, timing may be everything, said Walla Walla City Manager Nabiel Shawa in a discussion before the meeting.
He said the late timing of the May request for bids from contractors was likely largely to blame for the lack of competitive bids. Although he knew it was later in the season to seek bids for a major construction project, similar timing on projects over the last two years hasn’t been a problem.
“The competition had been so thin, and contractors were hungry,” Shawa said. “Now they have more projects. There’s less competition and not as many bids as there would have been two years ago.”
He believes a December or January request to contractors would be more competitive and possibly shave hundreds of thousands of dollars off the winning bid. Construction would begin in early 2015, he said.
Neither he nor downtown representatives would want to prolong the work beyond that.
The Alder Street project runs in various stretches from Sixth Avenue to Palouse Street.
Spurred originally by the need for additional parking downtown, pieces of the project built up toward a major rehabilitation akin to the makeover the made Main Street a major attraction.
The change would add 60 more parking spaces with the conversion to angled parking, Shawa said. It would also replace outdated traffic signals at First and Third avenues and Colville Street with overhead signals, and another at Fifth Avenue where a pole failure was. The lights run $250,000 to $300,000 apiece, Shawa said.
That construction also provided an opportunity for crews to do some utility work and repave.
Shawa said he’s hesitant to break out any pieces of the project individually as a way to move forward because they tend to cost more that way.
“It doesn’t make sense at this point,” he said.
Downtown Walla Walla Foundation Executive Director Elio Agostini said the delay is a “disappointment.” Downtown needs the additional parking, and Alder is ripe for the improvements that would extend the ambiance of Main Street.
He said creating a Local Improvement District to help fund the brunt of that construction may be too difficult on the timeline involved.
With much of the funding for the estimated $2.73 million design and construction of Alder coming from grants, the contributions may have deadlines for use.
“It’s complicated,” he said.
Property owners downtown were tapped through a Local Improvement District for the Main Street revitalization work. That’s still a liklihood for Alder, officials said. However, that money would be used more toward aesthetics, such as brick pavers, trees, tree grates, benches, coordinating trash cans and the like.
In the meantime, Shawa said the best strategy for moving forward involves the calendar.
“Our intentions are to bid this at the prime time when we’ll get the most competitive bids,” he said.
U-B reporter Alfred Diaz contributed to this story. Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8321.
This story was modified June 27, 2014, at 10 a.m. to reflect the following correction:
A story Thursday about a hold being placed on Alder Street construction incorrectly stated where one of three new signal lights would be installed. The plan calls for signal lights at First and Third avenues and Colville Street. We regret the error.