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The cost of commuting
by Jessica Carner
Jan 22, 2011 | 2365 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune File/Debra Reid - Samuel Brewer boards a Citifare bus at Centennial Plaza in Sparks. The Regional Transportation Commission on Friday approved change orders to the construction of the Fourth Street Station transit center in Reno, which increases the final cost of the project.
Tribune File/Debra Reid - Samuel Brewer boards a Citifare bus at Centennial Plaza in Sparks. The Regional Transportation Commission on Friday approved change orders to the construction of the Fourth Street Station transit center in Reno, which increases the final cost of the project.
RENO — The board of trustees for the Regional Transportation Commission on Friday approved construction change orders that increase the final bill for construction of RTC’s Fourth Street Station transit center.

The new bus station opened in October 2010 and originally was touted as a $13 million project. The change orders approved by the board on Friday raise that total to $15.2 million.

Although it seems like a substantial increase, RTC Engineering Director Jeff Hale said even with the increase, the project still finished well below the lowest original engineer’s estimate.

“Initially when we started this project several years ago, it was estimated at $18 million to $22 million,” Hale said.

Funding included in the newly approved change order is payment to West Coast Contractors for owner directed changes related to design issues, owner requested items, city of Reno requested items and unforeseen conditions. One-hundred-thousand dollars of the money is payment to the contractor to settle all claims and contract disputes.

Board member David Aiazzi said in November that West Coast Contractors still had $400,000 in claims and contract disputes.

Hale affirmed Aiazzi’s statement, and said getting that number down to $100,000 has been a process.

“In December, when we met with the subcommittee (which included Aiazzi and Dwight Dortch), the contractor had $400,000 unresolved,” Hale said. “We got that down to $250,000, and now they have agreed that $100,000 would settle all that.”

RTC has received public comment and concerns about the cost increase. People want to know where their tax dollars are going in this depressed economy, but Hale said cost increases are common with transportation projects in a tight urban setting.

“It’s the nature of this type of project,” Hale said. “At the end of the day, we are still below original estimates.”

RTC spokeswoman Felicia Archer said several adjustments had to be made during construction as the need for adaptation was identified. For one thing, she said, during construction of the station RTC received grant money for 60-foot long, accordion style buses (RTC RAPID), which were debuted with the new station in October.

“It cost $200,000 to modify the approaches for the articulated buses,” Archer said.

Archer said sometimes variations in costs occur because certain materials are not available, or the contractor sees a need to use a different material.

“For our funding, everything has to be made in America,” Archer said, adding sometimes securing U.S.-made materials increases costs. “Every additional cost the contractor incurs comes back to us.”

Another large increase to the final bill is attributed to seven miles of pigeon spikes, Archer said, a need which was identified midway through construction. Those bird spikes cost $296,000.

“They found that maintenance at the City Center was almost impossible because of birds,” Archer said. “We tried to eliminate that.”

Hale said the addition of solar panels also increased the cost of the transit center.

While the board approved the change orders Friday, it was not without careful examination of the matter.

“Today’s resolution is a solution for what is going on,” Aiazzi said. “But I have major issues with how some of these things got approved.”

When changes exceeded 10 percent of the overall construction budget for the transit center, those changes were supposed to be approved by the RTC subcommittee overseeing the project. Archer said the subcommittee did approve some of the changes, but not all of them.

Aiazzi said he is very happy with the work West Coast Contractors did, but an internal investigation is pending to determine if any RTC employees were at fault for not following procedure. RTC’s legal counsel Anthony Hall said a report of that internal investigation should be released next week.

With regard to the investigation, Hale said the subcommittee did not get a chance to approve changes until the contractor already had completed the work.

“My staff had exceeded 10 percent,” he said, adding simple changes can add up to a lot of money before anyone realizes it.

The Fourth Street Station transit center is located just east of the National Bowling Stadium in downtown Reno. During construction, 457 workers were employed and $4 million in federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus money was utilized. Construction began in April 2009.

Also during Friday’s meeting, the RTC board approved a measure authorizing the executive director to amend the professional service agreement for the Pyramid Way/McCarran Boulevard intersection improvement project environmental impact study for an amount not to exceed $873,921.

“Basically we need more money to pay the consultant to finish the environmental document,” Hale said.

Hale estimates Parsons Transportation Group will complete that document by 2012.

Scott Gibson of RTC engineering said the Pyramid/McCarran project has been scaled down from the original concept as a result of public input and the possibility of a Pyramid Way/U.S. 395 freeway connection, which would reduce traffic congestion on Pyramid Way.

As of today, the plan is to add one lane in each direction, turn lanes and complete bike and pedestrian lanes on Pyramid.

“The alignment will go to the east, so that will impact that row of homes,” Gibson said.
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