City parks officials are weighing their options after bids last month to restore the Waco Suspension Bridge came in twice as high as anticipated.
The Waco City Council voted in late 2017 to set aside $5.5 million from the Tax Increment Financing Zone to rehabilitate the bridge, which officially opened 150 years ago as of this week, according to the Texas State Historical Association. Sparks Engineering helped the city evaluate the structure and draw up plans to replace the bridge’s wooden deck and steel cables, strengthen its anchors and repair its anchor houses.
Three contractors submitted bids, which fell between $12.3 million and $13.5 million. Parks Director Jonathan Cook said the department now has three options: re-bid the project, break it up into phases or try to secure the money needed to proceed with the project as planned.
“There’s a couple of factors that played into it that we didn’t expect,” Cook said. “It’s a high-risk project. It’s a landmark. When you’re looking at a 150-year-old structure, a landmark, a suspension bridge, there’s a little bit of fear of the unknown in what we’re going to find once we get into the project. We think that played into those bids as well.”
Breaking the project up into phases would require rejecting the submitted bids, going back to the city council and starting a new bid process.
“Obviously, that’s not an ideal solution for anyone, but at the same time we have to look at the big picture and look long-term at what’s best for this project,” Cook said.
Cook said the department might also partner with other city departments to fully fund the project.
“We are looking at different park budgeting items we have, and really across the city, seeing if we can come up with some numbers to work with the bids that we have to get a project up and running,” Cook said.
In the meantime, he said he and senior parks planner Tom Balk have spent the last three weeks going through the bids line by line, trying to determine why the costs came out so high and if they can change.
“There’s been increases in (the cost of steel),” Cook said. “The amount of construction and development we’re seeing within the Waco market plays into it. You can look not only downtown, but I-35 construction and bridge construction across the state. There’s a lot of projects going on.”
Balk said the bids were relatively consistent, close in their overall price and line-by-line breakdown, though there are some differences. He said in general, the most expensive line items were the cost of mobilizing the equipment for the project, building pylons in the middle of the river to support the bridge, the steel cables and additional design work the contractor would need to provide.
“Proportionally, everything was where we expected it to be,” Balk said. “There were a few anomalies that we’re still assessing and figuring out if justification can be figured out.”
Sparks Engineering helped the department come up with the bid estimates and also helped determine what parts of the project are the most urgent.
“We did work closely with our engineers,” Cook said. “Sparks Engineering has a great deal of experience with the project.”
Cook said the department is also determining which parts of the project have to be done first and cannot be put off any longer. The steel cables, which were replaced in 1914, have stretched out over time and are considered high priority.
“When you’re taking out the cables, obviously you’ve got to support that bridge,” Cook said.
The department originally considered breaking the project into phases but decided against it.
“It’s a little easier to swallow in phases, but the impact on the public, the council really didn’t want to look at an extended closure over the decade,” Cook said.