After ‘hiccups’ Camas awards 3rd Avenue Bridge contract

City has $2.5 million federal grant to fund seismic work

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Spectators watch from the Third Avenue Bridge as 5,500 rubber ducks drop into the Washougal River on Sunday, July 23, 2017, to begin the 2017 Ducky Derby. (Post-Record file photo)

Despite $2.5 million worth of federal grant funding and plenty of willing contractors, the city of Camas’ quest to make “significant seismic improvements” to the Third Avenue Bridge spanning the Washougal River has hit its fair share of speed bumps.

“We had some hiccups last year,” Camas engineering manager James (Curleigh) Carothers told Camas city councilors on Monday, March 1, during the council’s remote meeting. “So we put it back out to bid.”

The “hiccups” Carothers referred to began in June 2020, after the city opened up the bidding process for the bulk of the construction work that would reinforce the bridge in the event of a major earthquake.

In July 2020, Carothers informed the council that the city had received four bids, but that all had exceeded the engineer’s estimate for the project. Additionally, the lowest bidder — the Vancouver-based Conway Construction Company — had apparently changed subcontractors after the bid opening and submitted a required subcontractor prequalification form to the city 24 hours late.

“In consultation with the city attorney, this act could be construed as ‘bid shopping,'” Carothers told city councilors in July 2020. “Submitting the form after the bids are in creates an (unlevel) playing field for all bidders as Conway could have seen the bid numbers and then simply failed to turn in the form, or otherwise gained an advantage by having the information.”

Instead of going with the lowest bidder, city staff advised the council to approve the second-lowest bidder, Stellar J. Corporation, out of Woodland.

The council voted on July 20, 2020, to reject the Conway bid “due to a major irregularity” and award the bid to Stellar for $2,140,510.

The Washington State Department of Transportation rejected the results due to irregularities and the contract was never awarded, Carothers told councilors this week.

The city reopened the bidding process in January 2021 and received five bids. This time, Conway was the highest bidder, with a bid of $2,456,079, and Stellar J came in second-lowest again, with a bid of $1,899,864. The lowest bidder, Vancouver-based Selby Bridge Company, said it would cost them $1,857,470 to improve the bridge.

Carothers said Selby’s bid was $389,530 lower than the engineer’s estimate of $2,247,000.

“Depending on the amount of construction change orders and overruns, local funds could be needed to offset the cost differential,” Carothers told council members Monday. “This amount could be as high as $155,000 based on the 10 percent overrun threshold allowed (by city code).”

The council agreed unanimously on Monday to award the bid to Selby Bridge Company in the amount of $1,857,470 with an allowance for up to 10 percent in change orders and overruns.

The upgrades will complete a city project that began in 2006, when the city first commissioned a seismic evaluation of the Third Avenue Bridge.

A second evaluation in 2017 reinforced the 2006 study, and, according to city staff, “concluded that the bridge is seismically deficient.”

The 225-foot-long, four-lane bridge consists of two separate structures — a steel girder bridge constructed in 1947 and a concrete girder bridge built in 1970.

According to the city, the bridge “provides a critical arterial link between the cities of Camas and Washougal” and has an average daily traffic count of about 10,000.

The city received more than $2 million in federal grant funding from the WSDOT Local Bridge Program in 2018 to make seismic and other improvements to the bridge.

Had the 2020 bid been approved, construction would have started in the fall of 2020 and been completed in 2021.