City of Washougal leaders are moving ahead with their project to replace a small pedestrian bridge at Hartwood Park, even though the project will cost significantly more than they had anticipated.
Washougal City Council members on Monday, May 23, approved a contract with Washougal-based McDonald Excavating to replace the deteriorating bridge this spring for an additional $172,356, bringing the total cost of the project to $339,526 – about $80,000 more than the estimate the city received in the fall of 2021.
“It’s just very disappointing when this happens,” Washougal City Manager David Scott said during the council’s May 9 workshop. “The environment and inflationary pressures and all of the things that we’re all aware of have made the cost of this project about $80,000 more than was estimated about six months ago. It’s just unbelievable what’s happening in the bidding. It’s just not normal.”
The city initially solicited contract proposals for the project in February and received no bids.
“We talked to some of the contractors, and they said, ‘Well, we’re really busy. We just couldn’t fit this into our schedule,'” Washougal city engineer Rob Charles said during the May 9 workshop. “We re-packaged it, did a couple of things to ease some of the contractors’ concerns, re-bid it about a month ago and got two bids this time. … We did not estimate (the low bid would be) that high.”
Charles said part of the problem is that the site has accessibility challenges.
“And some of it is that we were in a different (economic climate) six months ago,” Charles said. “It’s just gone nuts in the last six months with pricing.”
Councilmember David Stuebe questioned if the city can and should spend $335,000 to replace a small bridge that is used by “a small group of citizens.”
“That’s why this is hard for me to swallow,” he said.
Scott said the bridge replacement won’t prevent the city from completing other projects, but may mean Washougal will need to dip into its reserves.”
Scott added that, in the current economic climate, “communities are faced with whether or not to proceed with projects, and it just depends. In this particular case, we were already absorbing a $250,000 project to provide a nice, long-lasting, safe structure down there, and we did that, and it’s coming in at $80,000 high.”
Councilmember Ernie Suggs floated the possibility of simply removing the bridge and not replacing it, noting that “people go around it anyway.”
“I’m not sure about the optics of just taking the bridge out and leaving it,” Charles responded, noting the city has already agreed to purchase a new bridge for $49,000.
“A lot of people will be using it, especially with the disc golf course that’s up and running now. I wouldn’t recommend (taking) out the bridge, let’s put it that way,” Scott said. “You’re going to have bigger issues with erosion and people trudging through the creek. … I don’t know if we want people walking through an active creek when they’re moving through that trail system. If you don’t have your boots on, you’re not going to want to walk through that.”
Charles said the existing bridge is failing.
“The determination from professional engineers was that it was beyond repair and the existing footings had settled and needed to be replaced,” Charles said. “It’s in pretty bad shape. It probably should’ve been closed much earlier than it was, but when this was brought to our attention, we closed it down.”
“The sticker shock sort of blew my socks off, to tell you the truth,” Councilmember Molly Coston said. “I do think we probably need to go ahead and approve it. But I don’t know how we prioritize projects if they’re all going to come in at over our estimated bid.”
Scott said officials might have to “call time-out” on some of their planned projects if the bidding climate remains unfavorable.
“I think this is going to be an issue for us for a while,” he said. “I think we need to be prepared for this with anything that we put out to bid, and that we’re going to be challenged on every project for some period of time.”