BELFAST, Maine — City officials are frustrated but not thwarted in their desire to remove a ledge at the intersection of routes 141 and 1, after learning this week that the lowest bid to do the work was about double the estimate given by the project engineer.
It is the second time in a month that councilors have grappled with sticker shock when being asked to give the green light to projects that were much more expensive than they anticipated.
“I fully support this ledge removal, for safety,” Councilor Eric Sanders said at Tuesday night’s regular city council meeting. “But at some point we as a city need to get engineering firms that know what the heck they’re doing, because all of these things keep coming in much higher than we [expect]. It’s frustrating.”
Assistant City Planner Sadie Lloyd asked councilors to approve awarding the contract for doing the ledge removal, sidewalk and median work at the busy intersection to Rockport firm Farley & Sons for the amount of $58,309. She told officials the original engineering estimate came in at a range of $25,000 to $30,000 and that the city had put the work out to bid four times.
“We’ve come to the conclusion that the estimate originally provided by the engineer was just not high enough,” she said at the meeting.
An engineer at Gorrill-Palmer in Gray, the firm that did the estimate work for Belfast back in 2013, said Friday he was not aware the bid came in higher or that the Belfast City Council had discussed the matter at this week’s meeting. He declined to comment.
Earlier this month, councilors learned that it will cost about twice the engineer’s estimate to do work to revitalize the so-called “slum and blight” area between Main Street and Belfast Common. At that meeting, City Planner Wayne Marshall said the engineering firm — not the same one used for the road project — explained the discrepancy by saying midcoast construction costs turned out to be higher than elsewhere in Maine.
Belfast received a $100,000 federal highway grant in early 2013 to install traffic calming measures at the intersection in question, which is close to the East Belfast School. Marshall said Friday that during a prior project at the intersection, the city rebuilt and moved the Route 1 crosswalk to a less-busy location. On the inland side of Route 1, the crosswalk terminates on a hillside, where workers carved out a small “landing area” out of the rock ledge, he said.
Because councilors were concerned the landing area is too small and will pose visibility problems, enlarging it by removing more of the ledge has been a priority.
“This is an ongoing process of trying to get as much done as we can with a limited amount of money,” Marshall said.
He said Gorrill-Palmer’s engineering fee of about $22,000 covered more work than the portion Belfast just put out to bid.
Regardless, after paying for Farley & Sons to do the planned work, there will be much less money left than expected to pay for electrical work to install new flashing lights to slow traffic — about $10,000 altogether — Marshall said. But the initial bids for the improved traffic signals have come in between $20,000 and $25,000.
“I’d like it known that I’m very interested in seeing that the electrical work gets done,” Council John Arrison said at this week’s meeting. “Part of the whole project was to calm down traffic. That seems to be a key piece of it.”
City Councilor Mike Hurley wondered if there is something officials can do to try to get more accurate engineering estimates.
“There almost should be a performance guarantee on these people. Some kind of penalty for completely missing the target,” he said.
Despite the discussion, the councilors approved awarding the bid to Farley & Sons. Lloyd said the city can’t move forward with the project until it is approved by the Federal Highway Administration but added that the approval process usually is “fairly quick.”