27th Street underpass cost has increased by $3 million, causing Glenwood Springs to cough up an additional $100,000

A bicyclist crosses 27th Street at the intersection of 27th and Glen Avenue while a car waits to turn left during the busy rush hour traffic recently.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Construction labor is unpredictable right now, and the longer the Glenwood Springs 27th Street underpass project is postponed the more expensive it gets, officials say. 

The project for the underpass accessing the South Glenwood bus station has increased by $3 million since the last bid 10 months ago. 

“A $3 million increase seems like a huge percentage increase over an eight-month period,” City Council Member Paula Stepp said during the Jan. 5 City Council meeting.

Council approved the increase in funding with Mayor Pro Tem Charlie Willam being the only member to vote against it. But councilors were not happy about the sticker stock. 

“It’s a very, very important project,” Mayor Jonathan Godes said.  “I’m starting to get to the point of, what happens if we use up the contingency or there’s some issues that come up and it balloons to $20 million or $22 million? Now, I would like to say I’m being hyperbolic, but I don’t know that I am, given what we’ve seen the last two years.”

In February of 2022, the initial bid for the total cost of constructing the 27th Street underpass came to approximately $15.2 million, according to the presentation at council on Jan. 5.

Since then, both the city and the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority pursued multiple grants for the project and received $4 million from the Colorado Department of Transportation. 

They also recently received $6 million in Federal Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grant funding.

After being awarded the Federal RAISE grant, the project was rebid on Dec. 12, 2022, receiving one bid from the same contractor for $17.9 million. 

Due to the need for construction management and a contingency fund for the project, it is still underfunded, according to the presentation from Dan Blankenship, chief executive officer for RFTA.

The main reason behind the $3 million increase boiled down to the unpredictability of construction labor.

Blankenship said he will request that the RFTA Board award the project out of its own funding reserves, but asked city council for an additional $100,000 contribution, having them fund $850,000 all together. 

“We are planning to go to the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority RFTA board to see if they would be willing to take funds out of our reserve to fund this project, because what we’re finding is that while we’re pursuing grant funds, the costs are going up,” Blankenship said.

He added that contractors are not bidding on the project, except for the one who bid both times. 

“Contractors that did bid on it, we heard back from them that labor is unpredictable, that supply chain is unpredictable,” Blankenship said. “There’s a chance we might be able to get another grant in a year or two but then the cost might go up another two or three or four million.” 

He added, “we think that the best plan for us is to pursue getting this project under construction in the coming spring, and we’re going to ask the RFTA board to fill this gap.”

Glenwood city staff recommended to Blankenship that council take $100,000 of the funds out from reserve to help RFTA fill that gap, he said. 

The sole company that bid on it was Myers and Sons Construction from California, which recently opened an office in Grand Junction and has been heavily bidding on Colorado Department of Transportation projects, said Ben Ludlow, the project manager for RFTA.

Ludlow said he had just as much sticker shock as council had. 

“I asked them every single line item that was a big ballooned item,” Ludlow said. “‘How are we at this point? I need an explanation for this. And it was a lot of the really labor intensive items.”

There were large increases in steel and concrete, but mainly the items that require labor are more expensive, like excavation and trenching. Those prices went up extensively, he said.

The initial project was approved by voters as part of RFTA’s Destination 2040 plan, and should be honored, Blankenship and Godes said. 

“I think this will be my last increase that I can stand,” City Councilor Marco Dehm said.

Godes proposed pulling it out of the 0.2% bus tax and dedicated transportation fund, which is the reason Willman was not in favor of supporting the additional funds. Willman said there are more important things those funds could go to for transportation needs. 

Said Blankenship, “$11 million of this project has been covered by other grants, which we would have to turn that money back and maybe that’s worthwhile, but it could also impact our ability to get future grants. We’re going to pursue more funding for this. It’s not over, but we need to be able to sign a contract with the contractor.”

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