By Mark Squibb / August 4, 2023
Deck: Paradise council forced to delay Topsail Road crosswalk refit due to budget constraints
Staff had to go back to the drawing board after bids for new traffic calming measures in Paradise came in well over budget.
The Town had planned for the reconstruction of two crosswalks, one at the Topsail Road Marie’s Mini Mart across from Octagon Pond and the other on Karwood Drive near Paradise Elementary.
On Karwood, staff planned to raise the crosswalk, while on Topsail Road, they had planned on installing a pedestrian island. Following a traffic accident at the Topsail Road intersection earlier this year, a new replacement pole and light system was added to the scope of work, as well as a reconfiguration of the lights as recommend by a traffic engineering consultant.
The tender call closed on July 19, and the Town received three submissions, all inclusive of HST: Farrell’s Excavating Ltd., for a total of $443,900; Modern Paving Ltd., at a total of $494,500; and Dexter Construction Company Ltd., at a total cost of $722,922.
The problem is that the Town had only allocated $250,000, (plus HST) for the work.
As the tender results came in well over budget, the recommendation of the infrastructure and engineering committee was to cancel the tender and retender both jobs separately. The committee further recommended to tender the Karwood Drive work immediately, with an eye to begin construction this fall. The Topsail Road work would then be re-tendered in the future as the budget allows.
During this week’s public meeting, infrastructure and engineering chairperson Deborah Quilty moved that council cancel the tender due to the budget constraints and issue a new one for the Karwood Drive project. Council voted unanimously in favour of the motion, but many councillors expressed disappointment at having to do so.
“The results of the tender package were very disappointing,” said councillor Patrick Martin, also a member of the committee. “It’s quite overbudget, almost double what we had budgeted. These are two very, very important projects that I wanted to see completed, and not to speak for anybody else but I think the majority of council wanted to see it done. These are two very high traffic areas where pedestrians cross the road. On Topsail Road we see an excess of 20,000 vehicles a day. I think our last traffic study said 20,000 vehicles and that was three or four years ago. And then Karwood Drive of course is a school zone. Unfortunately, we had to pick one or the other because we just didn’t have the funding to do both projects. We think we are able to accomplish Karwood under the amount we have budgeted, and it’s in a school zone, so that’s the reason we picked this one over the other one.”
Martin added that down the line the Town may find cost savings to allow staff to tender the Topsail work as well.
“Its highly unlikely, but I’m hopeful that we might be able to do that,” said Martin. He later added the matter will be discussed again at staff and committee levels to try and understand better why there was such a discrepancy between the pre-tender estimate and the tender results.
Councillor Glen Carew echoed Martin’s sentiment and spoke to the larger issue of continuing inflation.
“It’s disappointing to see that costs are still ratcheting up,” said Carew. “One of those quotes was almost there times as much as what we budgeted. We know we need traffic calming in both of these places. But we just scratch our heads and wonder how much longer these inflationary pressures and costs going up can keep on scaling. Because we have a lot of projects to do, but we have finite budgets, and we have to work with the budgets that we have. And now, because of the reduced scope, we’re going to do one of these projects with the money we had allocated for two.”
Mayor Dan Bobbett agreed with Carew, adding the Town will have to keep inflation in mind when budgeting for projects in the future.
“This just seems to be the reality we’re living right now,” said Bobbett. “We’ve seen this on several occasions now.”
Councillor Larry Vaters said it was unfortunate the costs were so high as to make the initial tender unfeasible, but he was hopeful the Karwood Drive tender would come within budget.
“But it’s a balancing act,” said Vaters. “It’s a balancing act between being the stewards of the public purse. In terms of dollars and cents, it was a budget of 250K, and the lowest tender came in at nearly $450K. So, it’s a balancing act between the public purse and in these particular cases, pedestrian safety. We are not going to move away from those responsibilities, but unfortunately it is going to be delayed a little bit.”
Vaters added it was especially unfortunate that construction on Karwood will not be completed during the summer, as initially planned, but during the school year.
Quilty said the recommendation was discussed at length at the committee level, and though staff tried to find some way to “rob Peter to pay Paul,” the funds were not to be found.
The motion passed unanimously.
As Bobbett had indicated, it’s not the first time Paradise council has been surprised by tender results that have broken the budget.
Original pre-tender estimates for design and construction of a new lift station at the corner of Topsail Road and St. Thomas Line, the site of notorious Lift Station 10, came in at $12.6 million, while a secondary estimate accounting for inflation came in at $16.9 million. When the tender closed in January, the lowest bid received was $23.6 million. Council decided to go ahead with that work, though not unanimously — councillors Vaters and Carew voted against the motion.