City engineers are in uncharted territory as they push to begin replacing Astoria’s downtown waterfront bridges this year.
Bids for the work came in over budget in July. The Oregon Department of Transportation, which is overseeing the project, has since secured more money, but city leaders don’t yet know details about this funding.
If the project is delayed for another year — a likely scenario, said City Manager Brett Estes — the city will need to shoulder the expense of temporary repairs to keep the bridges open. City leaders had hoped to avoid these costs by replacing the bridges this year and next year.
But there are still many unknowns.
“We’re not in the standard ODOT process anymore,” said Cindy Moore, assistant city engineer. “Typically I can predict what’s going to happen next and I don’t know what’s going to happen next.”
The city believes the extra funding from the state for replacement work is enough to cover the lowest bid received in July. But Moore doesn’t know the amount yet. The city will have to provide matching funds.
The city planned to replace six waterfront bridges beginning in October. The structures are located at the end of Sixth Street through 11th Street and provide access to the piers. The Astoria Riverfront Trolley tracks cross the bridges.
City Councilor Zetty Nemlowill asked: Why not just adjust the scope of the project to keep it within the established budget?
While state law allows other entities to negotiate with the lowest bidder on a project, the Department of Transportation is prohibited from doing so, Moore said. The agency either awards a project or cancels it.
On Monday, Moore and Estes asked the City Council to approve a change order for bridge repair work in case the full replacement project doesn’t go forward this year. The city planned to pay Columbia Dockworks $42,025 for repair work on the Eighth and 10th street bridges and the trolley trestle. At the time, other repairs to the rest of the bridges were not deemed necessary since the entire structures were going to be replaced.
Now, Moore and Public Works Director Jeff Harrington say it will cost just over $118,000 to minimize closures on the Seventh, Eighth, 10th and 11th street bridges if full replacement work is delayed. The repair work could begin this month.
The city already faced issues with the 11th Street Bridge, where a 3-ton load limit is in place. State inspectors witnessed several violations of the load limit earlier this summer. The state warned the city that if the rule couldn’t be enforced, the bridge would need to be closed to all vehicle traffic immediately.