Traverse City Record-Eagle


June 14, 2010

Cost of Hammond-Keystone road connection rises

Contractor wants more time for job

TRAVERSE CITY — What may be the largest project undertaken by Grand Traverse County's Road Commission could drag on another three months and cost nearly $2 million more than anticipated.

An effort to connect Hammond and Keystone roads hit a series of bumps since the project was bid out more than a year ago, and included the recent death of a construction worker.

Now the general contractor, Rieth-Riley Construction Company Inc. wants to extend the completion date to Aug. 19 and seeks an additional $1.4 million to finish the job.

Road commissioners already approved more than $1.3 million in change orders, and the contracted price ballooned to $7.7 million.

The project began May 18, 2009, and was supposed to be open to traffic last November, with the final completion date set for Memorial Day.

"It was a huge project, probably the biggest and most complicated we've ever undertook," said Jim Maitland, road commission chairman. "There's complications, just like in every project."

The Michigan Department of Transportation is paying the project's entire tab and generated the first tremor shortly after the project was bid.

MDOT's rail safety division gave written approval for project design before it went out to bids, but later said it wanted greater separation between adjacent railroad tracks and the northern portion of Keystone Road.

The change required the road commission to redesign the road and push it deeper into steep, sandy slopes that were difficult to stabilize, said Mary Gillis, road commission manager.

That required retaining walls, slope regrading, and additional easement purchases that delayed the project.

A May 5 accident that killed a worker occurred on one of those slopes as he helped clear trees.

"The irony is we've done all that work for the railroad and the one company that used that line has closed down," Maitland said.

The project also includes two bridges to cross the tracks, and "design deficiencies" in them caused more delays, officials said.

Pilings driven into the ground to support the bridges weren't adequate in the sandy soil and had to be reinforced.

Bridge walls and footings also had to be redesigned because they didn't meet manufacturer specifications.

"We lost ... three months and our work got pushed out of sequence because of the design changes," said Lonnie Schaub, project manager for Rieth-Riley. "It's had a significant financial impact on our company and on the motoring public."

Keystone Road resident Mark Andersen said he doesn't know why the project is taking so long to complete.

"It won't do any good to complain," Andersen said. "But it would be nice to be able to run into Traverse City on Keystone like before."

The road commission will grant Rieth-Riley an extension, but it's unlikely they'll agree to an Aug. 19 completion date, Gillis said. The sides agreed to open Hammond Road before the end of June, as well as the southern portion of Keystone Road.

Gillis said Parsons Transportation Group, the bridges' design engineers, pledged to cover extra costs from design problems. And road commissioners approved some of Rieth-Riley's request for $1.4 million in previous change orders and will approve more, Gillis said, though some requests won't be approved.

"That included about $30,000 to hire a professional claim writer, and that is something we simply won't pay," Gillis said.

Extra costs will come from more than $9 million MDOT allocated for the project. Anything above the allocated amount comes out of the road commission's budget, but Gillis said plenty of cushion remains, even after settling with Rieth-Riley.

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