[UPDATE] New Westminster approves bigger budget for Pier Park access

Council stresses need for improved access to waterfront park - and blasts newspaper for reporting tender awarded

A pedestrian connection to Westminster Pier Park will cost nearly double what the city had originally envisioned.

The city budgeted $1.3 million for the overpass, and later increased the budget to $1.85 million. It has now awarded a contract to B&B Heavy Civil Construction Ltd., whose bid of $2,500,674 was the lowest of five bids reviewed by the city, and expects the overpass to be completed in late August.

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Last September, the city cancelled its tender process for the overpass because the bids came in higher than anticipated and started working with its consultant to see if there were ways of reducing costs. The city also questioned bidders about the costs and discussed if there were ways to reduce the costs.

Jim Lowrie, the city’s director of engineering, told The Record the bids are lower than what had originally been presented to the city, but he was unable to disclose those figures.

“We have kept it in camera to allow us to have discussions with the contractors, while preserving the integrity of the bidding process,” he said. “We don’t release the original bids.”

In response to some “good feedback” from contractors, the city has made some changes to the overpass from what had originally been proposed.

“We have done some design modifications. We have revised the foundation design so that it can be constructed using smaller equipment. That was one suggestion. We have specified standard-dimensional steel, whereas the original design had more custom-design steel,” Lowrie said. “Lastly, we have obtained better access across the railways to allow better access to the construction site.”

Lowrie said the city has received permission to construct a temporary crossing over the tracks at that location, something it didn’t have during the initial request for tenders.

According to Lowrie, access to the pedestrian overpass will remain at Fourth Street, at the parkade, and will essentially have the same design as before.

Christopher Bell, a longtime council watcher, contacted The Record last week after receiving an email from a city staffer who stated council had awarded the contract for the overpass at a Jan. 6 closed meeting.

Bell was concerned about council making a decision about a capital project in camera, and about the fact the project wasn't retendered after it was canceled. Staff had informed him previously that it would be retendered if cost savings can be found to bring the project closer to the budget amount.

Lowrie said the matter was discussed in camera in order to talk about the original bids. He said the city’s plan was to release it out of in camera at the next meeting, which usually occurs on the same day, but in this case the following meeting wasn’t scheduled until Jan. 13.

Lowrie told The Record all potential companies wanting to submit bids on the project had come forward during the initial request for tenders, so no one was excluded. He said one company did drop out between the two processes.

In addition to the successful low bid of $2.5 million, the city received four other bids ranging from $2.675,480 to $3,236,296.

The pedestrian overpass would take people from the Front Street parkade into Westminster Pier Park. Currently, the park is only accessible via a parking lot at the west side of the riverfront site.

At Monday night’s meeting, council members stressed the need for the improved access to the park – and blasted The Record for publishing an article about the tender before they’d formally dealt with it in a public meeting.

Coun. Chuck Puchmayr said the successful bid was the lowest bid. While it’s unfortunate that the overpass will cost more than what was originally anticipated by the city, he said there are “complications” with the site and its proximity to the rail lines.

“The cost is higher than we anticipated,” he said. “I wish it wasn’t.”

Delaying the project at this time would only lead to higher costs to build the overpass in the future, he added.

According to Puchmayr, this section of the park plays a “key role” in the emergency response and evacuation plan for the Quayside neighbourhood. He said the city is “very concerned” about the potential for a train incident and needs to provide additional ways for residents to evacuate the neighbourhood, if necessary.

“It’s a key component of the safety of the downtown,” he said. “If it is not built now, costs will continue to escalate.”

Coun. Betty McIntosh also supports the improved access to Westminster Pier Park. She noted the overpass would include an elevator, which will give all residents access into the park.

“We need to have more than one access to this new park,” she said. “At this time, if you park on the Front Street parkade, how are you to get to the park?

Coun. Bill Harper said it’s absolutely essential that the improved access be provided into the park, noting it also needs to be connected to the downtown for economic development reasons.

He said it’s “unfortunate” that The Record reported on the decision that had been reached in camera and should have waited until it had “full information” from the city before publishing a story. He said the city followed all of the compulsory rules of the Local Government Act.

“Maybe they will learn from that,” he said.

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