Council has to weigh fiscal responsibility with public safety
The ink wasn’t dry on their oaths of office when members of the newly elected Carbonear town council were faced with some gut wrenching decisions.
Drivers who use the busy Beach Road in Carbonear may have to contend with the condition of the old Gut Bridge until next spring.
Council had intended to replace the 41-year-old structure this year. But the project has come in at close to $500,000 (half a million dollars) more than expected, leaving council with having to weigh fiscal responsibility with public safety.
Considering the lateness of the construction season and with winter around the corner, the project could be delayed until next year.
The issue came in for discussion Oct. 19 during the first regular public meeting of the newly minted town council.
The item came up under “correspondence received and action taken.” Harris & Associates copy of letter to department of Municipal Affairs Sept. 21. Request for additional funding to award contract to Newfound Construction for the completion of the Gut Bridge upgrading project.”
While Mayor Sam Slade indicated a preference to discuss the issue later, Coun. Gladys Mercer said, “I don’t know why we can’t discuss it now.”
Coun. Ed Goff agreed, adding, “I wouldn’t mind discussing it.”
Town Administrator Cynthia Davis explained the original estimate for the project was $610,725. But after it went to public tender, the total project cost ended up at $1,087,000 - $476,275 higher than the original estimate.
“Why was it over budget,” Coun. Goff wanted to know.
“We’re not able to answer that,” mayor Slade replied.
“How could the engineering company be that much out,” Coun. Goff continued?
Davis explained the original estimates provided by the engineers were considered to be reasonable at the time they were prepared.
Mayor Slade added when the provincial engineers checked the engineering firm’s original figures they were found to be “dead in.” The mayor added: “I’m told the materials alone for that bridge will cost $250,000.”
The project is being cost shared on an 80/20 per cent basis, with the provincial government responsible for the larger portion and the town picking up the remaining one fifth.
The new price would bring the province’s share to $869,600. That’s $381,000 more than the original figure they were expecting to pay. And the town’s share would be $217,400. That’s $95,255 over the town’s original estimated share. Cynthia Davis told The Com-pass afterwards, the question is, “will the province be willing to come up with the extra (almost $400,000). “There’s no way we (town) could take it on at that additional cost,” she said.
She also explained the consultant’s fees have to be factored into the cost increase.
When he asked if the tender has yet been awarded, dep. mayor Ches Ash was told it has not.
To clarify the tendering process, mayor Slade told council that two tenders were received on this project and “the other was much high- er.” Mayor Slade cautioned the new council, “we got to be very careful here we don’t affect the public tendering act.”
Dep. mayor Ash said, “it seems to me we have to be as fiscally responsible as we can — to simply go ahead would not be fiscally responsible if there is another option.”
While council wants to be fiscally responsible, it also has the public safety issue to consider with the bridge.
Asked about the safety issue, Brian O’Grady, told council, structural engineers were originally brought in to check the concrete abutments. There are 12 beams holding up the bridge he explained, and some of the rebar is exposed. That has slowed down the process and we’re getting late into the season now, the director of operations and public works noted.
He said the engineers reported that one side of the bridge was potentially unsafe for heavy truck traffic.
The director also suggested the volume of construction work currently underway around the province has also affected the cost of the project.
Earlier this summer the bridge was reduced to one lane with traffic lights and one-way traffic. The barricades were later shifted back allowing two-way traffic to resume.
Town Administrator Davis reported that, although they don’t have it in writing, council has been told by the engineers that the bridge is safe for one lane.
Before she would agree to leave the bridge like it is for the win-- ter, Coun. Gladys Mercer said she would want to have some assurance from the engineers that it is safe for the public to drive over, and she would like to have it in writing.
Mayor Slade asked the town administrator to check with the engineers to confirm if the bridge can remain the way it is for the winter months.
Coun. Mercer asked if all councillors could get a copy of the engineer’s report on the bridge. Copies of the report will be placed in councillors’ trays.
A lot of water has flowed under the Gut Bridge and a lot of vehicles have drive over it since it was built in 1968. After 41 years, the old structure has seen better days - erosion and wear and tear have taken their toll and the bridge has to be replaced. But that may not happen until next year.