Soaring price forces Basalt to reconsider underpass

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

Basalt will reconsider construction of a pedestrian underpass of Highway 82 after the lowest bid by a contractor was $2.1 million above its engineer’s estimate.

Town Manager Mike Scanlon sent Town Council members a memo Monday that said the lowest bid was $7.2 million. The town most recently estimated the cost at $5.1 million. The cost was estimated at $3.1 million when the project was conceived in 2012.

“Needless to say, this bid greatly exceeds our estimate and the resources we have as a town,” Scanlon wrote to the council. He went on to say, “Where we can value engineer, we will consider. But there probably isn’t $2.1 million of value engineering to be found in this project. We will consider if we should rebid and whether or not a rebid would yield a significantly different result.”

The underpass is touted as a way for pedestrians to safely cross between the north side of Basalt — which includes the downtown core and the middle and elementary schools — and the South Side neighborhoods, which include the high school and the upvalley-bound park and ride for the bus stop. The underpass was slated on the east side of the intersection of Highway 82 and Basalt Avenue.

The underpass also was seen as a way to avoid traffic delays. Traffic turning eastbound or upvalley onto Highway 82 from Basalt Avenue often must wait for pedestrians before advancing.

Basalt had secured $2.016 million from the Colorado Department of Transportation for the work and $1 million from the Elected Officials Transportation Committee, comprised of upper valley governments. The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority committed to $500,000. Basalt was chipping in $1 million from its Parks, Open Space and Trails fund, and was prepared to cover the balance, when it was estimated to be slightly more than those funding sources.

Work was scheduled to begin this fall.

“Ultimately, this will become a question of whether we can fund a gap,” Scanlon wrote. “We can’t fund this current gap by ourselves. We need help from our partners. What help they can provide, I’m not sure of today.”

Scanlon said he was meeting with the town’s new consulting engineer, Louis Meyer, and with funding partners on the next possible steps. The project has become a priority for the town, Scanlon noted in his memo, but it possibly is too expensive to pursue.

“Sometimes a project grows to a point that the cost outstrips the benefits for the community — it simply costs too much,” Scanlon said. “I want you to be ready for that discussion-decision should it come.”