A new roundabout planned for West Bedford is millions over budget before construction has started, and the municipality is proposing closing part of Larry Uteck Boulevard for three months to limit further cost overruns.
The roundabout will replace the conventional intersection of Larry Uteck Boulevard and Broad Street, at the north end of Broad Street. The municipality built a roundabout at the south end last year, and in March, Halifax regional council awarded a sole source contract for $3.25 million for the new roundabout.
The contract went to West Bedford Holdings Ltd. (affiliated with Clayton Developments Ltd.), which is developing the area. Under its development agreement with HRM, West Bedford Holdings Ltd. (WBHL) had to pay for and install traffic lights and turning lanes at the intersection. But because there’s also a new school going in at the site, the municipality, along with the province, decided a roundabout would better handle the traffic in the area.
The developer would pay the same amount it would have for traffic lights and turning lanes, $550,000, leaving HRM to spend $3.25 million.
Like everything else, inflation has hit the construction industry and the cost has risen dramatically.
In a report to council’s Audit and Financing Standing Committee, which met on Wednesday, transportation planning program engineer Adam Lanigan informed councillors that WBHL tendered for the work and received two bids: one for about $7 million and another for $8.1 million.
The developer then tried to bring the cost down.
“As both of the received bids significantly exceeded the available budget, WBHL engaged with the low bidder on HRM’s behalf to execute a value engineering process to examine alternative and innovative approaches to reduce overall project costs while maintaining the quality of the deliverable,” Lanigan wrote.
They were able to find $250,000 in savings with a traffic management plan, $300,000 each with new plans for rock sloping and the paving schedule, and $30,000 by eliminating a bond on the project. The developer has also increased its share of the project to $850,000, the new estimated cost of lights and lanes.
The savings bring the total cost to HRM down to $5.9 million — $2.2 million more than originally budgeted.
“Here we go again, these roundabouts are getting expensive,” Coun. David Hendsbee said. “I hope it’s not going to be turning out to another Washmill underpass situation.”
The councillor for the area said HRM should’ve gotten the work done sooner.
“Obviously this is a situation that I think all of us around the table wish we weren’t in, in the sense that we know we need this roundabout,” Coun. Tim Outhit said.
“I hope we’ll learn from this going forward to other large developments that this sort of infrastructure has got to get in there sooner. In this case, it would have been less disruptive to the community and also I think, probably a lot cheaper if we’d built it five years ago.”
That $250,000 in savings with traffic management means rather than intermittent closures or traffic control, the intersection will close completely for three months next spring, a major concern for Outhit.
“Any proposal to close this road for several months, I have a real concern with, and I have a real concern because there really aren’t viable options to reroute folks to,” Outhit said.
“You’re trying to find a way to get this done faster and this cheaper. I absolutely commend that. I do not see this road being closed for three months. I just don’t.”
Lanigan told Outhit the full closure would mean a shorter timeline and a more predictable closure for residents.
“There would be no surprises,” Lanigan said. “There’ll be no time of day changes where it’s free flowing during the peak hours and then alternating flow during the off-peak hours, which, as we saw during the construction of the last roundabout last year, the off-peak hours saw significant delays due to that alternating flow condition.”
There would be detours in place using Bluewater Road, Broad Street, and Gary Martin Drive.
“Realistically, for many drivers, the use of Hammonds Plains Road and Highway 102 may be a more useful route to access either Bluewater or Gary Martin Drive during the project,” Lanigan wrote in the report.
Lanigan also noted there’s a “hard stop” to the work, with the new school opening at the intersection in September 2023.
Deputy Mayor Pam Lovelace wasn’t convinced.
“While something might look lovely on paper, closing Larry Uteck for any period of time is very problematic,” Lovelace said.
“That’s like closing Hammonds Plains Road.”
Lovelace asked staff to look at ways to keep the road open instead.
“Because the closure will cause significant safety concerns on the other corridors: Lucasville, Hammonds Plains Road, Bedford Highway, as well as residential streets where people are going to be speeding very quickly to bypass,” Lovelace said.
The committee passed a motion to recommend council approve new funding for the project.
The extra money will come from an account for another project, Downtown Dartmouth Infrastructure Renewal, being used to connect the Dartmouth Cove area to Alderney Drive.
Lanigan acknowledged the withdrawal “will leave that account short of its original budget.
“Staff intend to reprioritize all capital projects based on state of readiness and bring a revised schedule as part of the 2023/24 Capital Budgeting process,” he wrote.
What about traffic being diverted down Brookline as well? Through kingswood and to blue mountain?
If they can get that connection done in time?
I can’t see a whole lot of information to justify the substantial cost to HRM taxpayers to build a roundabout instead of traffic signals (the cost of which would totally be paid for by the developers). Coun. Hendsbee’s comment that he hopes that this does not turn into another Washmill underpass situation is interesting and may be relevant to this situation.
The Washmill Lake Court extension project went so far over budget that the project was subject to review by the Municipality’s Office of the Auditor General (OAG). I’ve tried to copy the link to his report below but, if I have not been successful, it can be found at the HRM website.
Customized Global Template – normal.dot (halifax.ca)
This is an incredible indictment of HRM staff – one which would make the reader question whether this was just incompetence or maybe something more. Among his findings:
>There was a lack of clarity around why HRM was doing this particular project and why then.
>Project management was poor to non-existent and communications with Regional Council was so bad that informed decisions could not be made.
>There was little documentation to justify decisions made, including decisions regarding routing and road design (the road was constructed as a four lane undivided highway despite the findings of an HRM engineer that traffic levels only justified 2 lanes).
Tim Bousquet reviewed the routing decision (see link below) just prior to the OAG report being made public and concluded that, although Clayton Developments was a major beneficiary, to the best he could determine, it was simply the lucky recipient of decisions made elsewhere. I’d be interested to know if Tim still reached the same determination after reading the OAG report.
Clayton Developments was the lucky winner in Washmill underpass project (halifaxexaminer.ca)
In any event, there should be a greater level of review of staff recommendations before decisions are made on significant public expenditures – particularly on signficant cost overruns on capital projects.
I notice that once again HRM staff never mention traffic counts on the roads that will be open when Larry Uteck Blvd is closed. The proposed closure will be a traffic nightmare and cause delays to fire and ambulance services, and Bedford already has sub par fire service.