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Highway 6 signalization pushed back

Miscommunication leads to increased estimated cost

TIFFIN– It’s an unfortunate chain of events.
That’s how Ben Carhoff, of Hart-Frederick Consultants, described the situation regarding the installation of traffic lights on Highway 6 in a recent letter to the Tiffin City Council.
“I was told they were sized for traffic light poles when they’re not. They’re standard bases for street lights that were installed,” Carhoff told council members at a Feb. 7 regular meeting.
In a memo, he explained incorrect assumptions about the infrastructure in place for signalization, as well as a right-of-way issue and concerns about the project timeline. These unanticipated factors add up to a $178,000 increase in the engineer’s estimated cost.
“The bad news is it’s $428,000 when we thought it was going to be $250,000,” said Mayor Steve Berner.
But Carhoff noted the estimate is high because he wrote it as a request for quotation (RFQ); in other words, the city would invite suppliers to bid on the project versus simply rewarding it to Hart-Frederick. He also said signalization is a lump sum item and is harder to estimate.
“There’s a difference between just handing it over to our firm and going out to bid,” he said. “It’s a $300,000 project, and in the past those types of projects, they always take those out to bid the engineering or go RFQ on it.”
Broken down, the estimated cost of the project is $260,000 for signalization, $20,000 for mobilization, $10,000 for traffic control, $98,340 in engineering costs, $2,500 for right-of-way acquisition, $29,800 for 10 percent contingency, and $8,000 to remove the light poles and bases already installed– which, he added, can be salvaged for the Roberts Ferry Road project.
Carhoff noted he would be comfortable with $50,000 in engineering costs if Hart-Frederick was awarded, due to some of the design already having been completed during the Ireland Avenue project.
“There’s good news here believe it or not,” City Administrator Doug Boldt added.
In early February, the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) announced a willingness to partner with the City of Tiffin for costs through the Urban-State Traffic Engineering (U-STEP) program. The program requires the city to pay 45 percent of construction costswhile the state will fund the remaining 55 percent. In this case, $147,510 would be on the city and $180,290 on the state.
With the current engineer’s estimate, as well as the $2,500 right-of-way acquisition, the city could pay a total $248,000.
The news was a blow to city council members, who have been working hard since last fall to convince the DOT that the Hwy. 6 and Ireland Avenue/Roberts Ferry Road intersection warranted traffic signals– with the ultimate goal of improving safety for students walking to the Clear Creek Amana (CCA) middle and high schools.
“We have been willing to move heaven and earth to get these lights in, willing to pay for it ourselves before the state comes up with money,” said council member Peggy Upton. “The state comes up with money, we think we’re going to get by sweet and not only are we not going to get by sweet, we’re going to pay more. Not good.”
According to minutes from both a March and April 2012 meeting, council members repeatedly instructed Hart-Frederick to submit a design plan with traffic signal infrastructure, so the city would be ready when those warrants were met.
Jay Anderson, engineer with Hart-Frederick, said although the project was started with the intention to include signal infrastructure, the DOT didn’t approve the plans.
“When the DOT says no signals, no nothing, it’s their road, their ballgame. You can’t put them in,” he explained at a Feb. 21 regular city council meeting.
When asked by Upton where that information was communicated to the council, Anderson said it was during the design phase.
“OK, but we’re not engineers. We don’t read plans like you,” Upton said.
“There are a lot of things in the design phase of a project that we don’t come back with,” Anderson countered.



Funds awarded through Urban-State Traffic Engineering (U-STEP) program

According to language by the Iowa Department of Transportation, the intent of the U-STEP program is to solve traffic operation and safety problems on primary roads in Iowa cities. The following conditions apply to the funded project:
The city must engineer and administer the project.
Improvements must involve a municipal extension of a primary road.
City match is 45 percent of the construction cost, while 55 percent is state-funded.
An engineering analysis of the problem area is required.
Maximum of $200,000 (in funding) per project for spot improvements.




“And I get that,” responded Upton. “You just knew what a big deal signals were to us. We talked about this about how awesome it was that we had all this infrastructure in place. Turns out we don’t.”
Anderson noted two of the three infrastructure items are in place: conduit and the control box.
“We have everything but the bases,” he said.
According to Carhoff’s memo, a 30-inch-wide, 8-foot-deep base was installed when signalization poles and mast arms require a 36-inch-wide, 18-foot-deep base.
At the Feb. 7 meeting, council member Al Havens expressed his concern about paying twice for the same thing and running into underground utilities again.
However, he was mostly OK with the estimated cost.
“It’s pretty reasonable, considering we were going to do it all on our dime,” he said.
Upton wasn’t so easily placated.
“We put our faith and our trust in you guys,” she told Carhoff. “Everybody makes mistakes. This is not as probably an expensive a one as some, but I’d like to know how expensive it is. And I’d like to know when we sign off on projects and pay estimates and pay these bills like we pay every month, I would like to know that you’re up front with us.”
Although Hart-Frederick explained the timeline of the project and the roadblocks the firm met with the DOT, there was still a resounding indignation by the council: Why weren’t we told?
“I think the point of this is that we’ve been telling everybody for the past three years that we were ready for signals, and our ‘ready’ was cabinet, conduit, bases,” said Boldt.
He pointed to a meeting held last fall between city, DOT, and CCA staff, as well as State Representative Bobby Kaufmann and State Senator Kevin Kinney, during which he even boasted that preparedness to the DOT.
“I said these three things are ready to go, DOT. We’re prepared and ready to go,” he said. “It wasn’t until two weeks ago last Friday when Ben and I had that conversation that anybody knew that of those three things, only two of them were there. I think that’s the point.”
Council member Mike Ryan agreed.
“From that time, from 2012 forward, all of us were operating under the assumption that we had infrastructure in place, that this whole project was designed for us to have stoplights,” said Ryan. “The real beef is that it really never came back to us that that changed.”
While the council originally hoped to have the signals installed before the start of the 2017-2018 school year, Carhoff advised members to scale back the aggressive construction schedule. He noted the 12-16 week lead-time for the poles and mast arms.
“It’s not realistic to get this done ahead of the start of the school year. That’s just not going to happen,” Ryan agreed. “The question we need to ask is do we want to do it during the school year or do we want to get all our ducks in a row, get our funding lined up, and the day after the last day of school (May 2018) do this project.”
Upton suggested construction allowed during the school day only with it stopping while kids needed to use the intersection, and Havens proposed completing the bases during the summer while waiting for the poles.
“I think with the state’s generosity and stepping up to the plate here, they don’t want us to wait,” Boldt added.
Although no definitive timeline was set for construction, the council voted, 4-0, with Bartels absent, at the Feb. 7 meeting to hire Hart-Frederick to engineer the project, with the stipulation the firm would offer an explanation of adjusted cost at the Feb. 21 meeting, which Carhoff provided.
“The most fitting line of the whole explanation is that it’s an unfortunate chain of events,” said Ryan. “And the most unfortunate link is that we didn’t get told.”