City staff have compiled the lessons learned during the Columbia Avenue Complete Streets Project which brought traffic congestion and long delays to one of Castlegar’s busiest thoroughfares for months. It was one of the City’s biggest infrastructure projects in recent years.  Director of Development Services and Civic Works Lucas Pitts feels overall it went well, but identifies some areas for improvement. He says the big lessons learned were around communication and feels a reader board warning people of significant delays would have helped.

“The uncertainty of what the delay would be because some days it was five minutes, the next day it was an hour, was very confusing for people. So people would get in line hoping for the best for it to be the worst, so for me, that would be the biggest thing to come out of it.”

He says the project didn’t go over budget and there were no schedule over-runs. Although the project was supposed to be done on October fifth and took months longer, Pitts explains the extension was due to a change in plans by the City. “Was actually a change order ordered from the City for additional work. And so there were no schedule over runs, there was a slight increase to the schedule but that was because we added additional work to the project.”

Some of that work includes Fiber Optic Cable connectivity through the Columbia Basin Trust.

Traffic management was highlighted as an issue as it was allowed to back up to a point that exceeded contract language. In general, Pitts finds that the City’s approach to contract administration “could be a little tighter.” As stated in the report ‘contract language was good but the contractor was allowed to deviate from that language in some instances early which exasperated problems later on.’ Strengthening contract administration at the beginning was identified as the solution.  The small contingency fund was also a concern. Although things didn’t run over budget for Phase I of Columbia Avenue, Pitts feels it could be a “dangerous approach going forward. A 10 per cent contingency is the expectation for larger projects.

Some of the other issues that were flagged for improvement were ‘third party utility engagement’ which could be remedied by ensuring ‘the City receives in writing the requirements from third party utilities before proceeding.’ Staff turnover during early phases of the project also made the transition difficult. Lastly, the cost estimates were poor. There isn’t much of a fix for this, according to the City, as year over year costs are increasing at a very high rate. Pitts says this issue is more in regards to the tendering of the project. It was prepared with a $7-million budget in mind and the bids all came in high, with one actually double the cost. Pitts says it hurt things out of the gate and the project was scaled back. The high bids also resulted in the smaller contingency.

The report was presented to City Council this week for information. There was no discussion on the findings.