Richland to Remain Rocky Road Until 2015

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Athens residents and visitors will have to wait another year before it’s smooth sailing on Richland Avenue as no contractors bid on the large project that was to be completed this summer.

Andy Stone, director of the Athens Department of Engineering and Public Works, said that the city held a bid opening for the Richland South project on Friday, but no bids were submitted. Stone said he believes the time constraint placed on the project was a contributing factor to the lack of interest by contractors.

Stone told The Messenger on Friday that the engineer’s estimate for the project was $3.68 million. He said the city held a pre-bid meeting with possible contractors last week to go over details of the project. One of the biggest stipulations of the project was that much of the work — particularly utility relocation — was to be done before Ohio University students move back in August. Another requirement was to maintain two-way traffic during construction. The entire project was slated to be complete by Dec. 31.

The scope of the project will include widening Richland Avenue from Dairy Lane to Canterbury Drive to allow for bike lanes; building new curbs and sidewalks; replacing water lines, storm drains and natural gas lines; and giving the roadway a smooth asphalt finish. Stone previously told The Messenger that decorative street lighting will likely be installed and the traffic signal near The Pedaler & The Packer will be updated. Some driveways to businesses on Richland Avenue will also be slightly modified for improved safety.

After speaking to representatives from the Ohio Department of Transportation and some contractors on Friday, Stone said that contractors said there wasn’t enough time left in the year to complete the project in 2014.

“The feedback we got is that a number of the aspects of the work required subcontractors,” Stone said.

He said that subcontractors weren’t willing to commit to the tight timeline, which increases the risk to contractors of not completing construction on time. Not meeting the city’s deadline would result in monetary damages to the contractor.

Bids would have had to been within 10 percent of the engineer’s estimate for the project to be accepted.

With the short timetable, Stone said he believes it would have resulted in prices that were probably too high for contractors to stay within the 10 percent over the engineer’s estimate, so they didn’t bother to bid on the project.

Stone said he had hoped to bid the project much earlier in the year, specifically February. However, he said that many planning details took longer than anticipated. He said it took too long to get the temporary easements from Richland property owners approved.

“Some of the environmental clearances took longer than we expected and private utility conflicts were all very significant and required a lot of coordination,” he said. “Ultimately, those things took longer than we anticipated.”

Stone did note that ODOT was timely in its actions during the project planning process.

In addition to the small construction window, Stone said that by the time the project was put out to bid most qualified contractors in southeast Ohio had already taken on a full workload for 2014.

Now the city will rethink the time constraints levied on contractors, Stone said.

“We know it will have to be built in 2015,” he said. “Our goal is to reassess and make these modifications to the plan and rebid it probably in late July.”

Stone said the city will likely set a new completion date of mid-August of 2015 prior to when OU students move in. He said the city will have the option to rebid the project and either begin work this fall, with a break in the winter, and resume in the spring. Or construction could begin after winter.

On Friday, Stone said he was leaning toward beginning construction this fall. He said current utility relocation work will continue through the summer.

The city was able to obtain approximately $3 million in grant funding through ODOT for the project. Stone said the grants were originally for the 2015 fiscal year anyway and that ODOT moved some funds around to allow the project to begin in 2014.

“The grants will be OK. I talked to ODOT about it,” he said.

By allowing more time for the project, Stone said he hopes the city will be able to get better prices from contractors.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to deliver it without going over budget. It’s just happening eight months later than I wanted it to,” Stone said.

As far as the giant potholes that have plagued the route, Stone said his crew will keep Richland as patched as possible to survive another winter. He said his department already did some patching in the spring, but didn’t put a lot of effort into the street’s surface because they anticipated full paving this summer.

“We don’t want to do too much, otherwise it’s a waste of materials,” Stone said. “We’ll have to weigh that against the comfort of the traveling public. Richland is in bad shape.”