The Rucker Renewal project wrapped up in July 2020 for through traffic, but change orders over the yearlong construction added almost $2 million to the original $9.5 million budget. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

The Rucker Renewal project wrapped up in July 2020 for through traffic, but change orders over the yearlong construction added almost $2 million to the original $9.5 million budget. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

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Bad soil, concrete and COVID added to Rucker project costs

Change orders for the project added nearly $2 million to the project’s original $9.5 million budget.

EVERETT — Work on the Rucker Renewal utilities and road project in downtown Everett largely wrapped up in July, but the city just finished picking up the final tab, which was almost $2 million and 60 working days more than originally projected.

Unexpected problems with soil condition under the four-block stretch, choosing concrete instead of asphalt, keeping open some of the road and sidewalk in sections, and COVID-19 added hundreds of thousands of dollars. Over the year of construction, crews found deteriorated wood water pipes, unsuitable soil and old brick that once was the city’s road, Everett Public Works director Ryan Sass said.

“Everett’s a very old city and there’s all kinds of things to find under there,” he said.

Crews found relics from Everett’s past decades: ceramic flatware, an oil lamp chimney top and even a glass prescription bottle for Dr. Kilmer’s Swamp Root Kidney Cure.

The project included replacing the water main underneath Rucker Avenue between Everett and Pacific avenues and redesigning the streetscape with wider sidewalks, traffic calming medians and signal improvements for pedestrians and vehicles.

Originally the final contract was for $9.5 million when construction started in summer 2019. Change orders, including the last one in December, brought the total past $11.5 million. The roughly 21% increase was at the high end of the range Everett public works projects typically see for additional costs. Those added costs weren’t fully covered in the project budget contingency.

“Most of the time we’re around 10% or under on the majority of our projects,” Sass said.

Several business owners repeatedly complained about the traffic disruption and a loss of sales because of the project.

The Rucker Renewal utilities and road project ended up almost $2 million over the original budget because crews found unexpected conditions, such as this pavement-brick-pavement layering. (City of Everett)

The Rucker Renewal utilities and road project ended up almost $2 million over the original budget because crews found unexpected conditions, such as this pavement-brick-pavement layering. (City of Everett)

The Everett City Council approved the fourth and final change order totaling $650,667 on Dec. 30. It closed the project’s contract, but people may see crews finishing small tasks in the months to come.

The last round of additional expenses covered items ranging from $1,416 for lighting conductors to $160,604 because of costs for more excavation and fill than initially estimated.

During the design portion of the project, before construction, at least one boring down to 20 feet and three or four shallow pavement corings per block were done. That information helped the contractor plan for how much excavation and infill would be needed. But when more was required, more had to be bought, which resulted in unexpected costs.

If the initial bores were done in different spots, sometimes just feet away, it could have been found.

In hindsight, additional boring and core sampling could have found the areas that resulted in change order expenses, Sass said. But what they yielded would have needed to be removed and filled either way.

“What I wish we had done is deeper cores to find that stuff,” Sass said. “Any time we’re working in the old part of the city like this, we should increase our contingency and potential quantities.”

While drivers couldn’t take Rucker Avenue straight between Everett and Pacific, they could access at least a part of it during the phased construction. Plus, the phases allowed for sidewalks to remain open most of the time that businesses in the construction area were. But that required more flaggers to help manage construction work and business access at an additional $69,000.

The Rucker Renewal utilities and road project ended up almost $2 million over the original budget because crews found unexpected conditions, including a void from deteriorated wood water pipes that had to be removed and filled. (City of Everett)

The Rucker Renewal utilities and road project ended up almost $2 million over the original budget because crews found unexpected conditions, including a void from deteriorated wood water pipes that had to be removed and filled. (City of Everett)

“That’s really us underestimating the amount of work that was needed to keep those downtown businesses open all the time,” Sass said. “That’s really the right thing to do.”

COVID-19 ended up costing the city over $48,700 to pay for cleaning and sanitation supplies, handwashing stations, personal protective equipment and worker screening stations. That was negotiated down from an early estimate of over $245,000, according to the change order. Sass said the city and contractor agreed to split over $90,000 for the unexpected costs because the city wasn’t contractually obligated for all of it.

“The city’s perspective was we recognized the impacts are real, but we don’t recognize that the city’s on the hook for them necessarily,” he said.

While the road was still closed and work being done, someone stripped copper wiring used for the underground vehicle detection loops that trigger signal light changes. Copper theft has been a problem for over a decade across the country as people steal it from construction sites and even electrical sub-stations, according to the FBI.

The open and unsecured work zone meant the city was responsible for the expense to replace the vehicle detection system. Instead of the high cost to redo the in-ground induction loop that senses magnetic variations, the city opted for a video detection system at $12,150.

Workers who dug up and rebuilt Rucker Avenue found several items from the city’s past, including this glass prescription bottle for Dr. Kilmer’s Swamp Root Kidney Cure. (City of Everett)

Workers who dug up and rebuilt Rucker Avenue found several items from the city’s past, including this glass prescription bottle for Dr. Kilmer’s Swamp Root Kidney Cure. (City of Everett)

“Otherwise we would have had to break up the slab, re-pour the concrete and put in the detection loops,” Sass said.

The third change order in March included $753,000 for concrete pavement instead of asphalt. That work alone added 29 working days because of noise ordinances, according to the change order.

Concrete should require less maintenance than asphalt, which usually requires an overlay between eight and 12 years, Sass said.

“One of the nice things with this type of construction and the kind of roadway is the cost of maintenance is significantly less” and should be around for the next 100 years, he said.

If the city ever has to dig it up in the future, there at least should be records of what’s underneath the concrete.

Ben Watanabe: bwatanabe@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3037; Twitter @benwatanabe.

Correction: This story has been modified to correct the number of shallow pavement core samples taken.

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