Fresno City Council members on Thursday approved a $32.6 million construction contract to build a bus rapid transit system that will link downtown with the city’s eastern and northern edges along two of its major thoroughfares.
The 5-2 vote is another victory for Mayor Ashley Swearengin on one of her cornerstone projects.
“BRT is a significant investment that will provide better service and economic benefits for our residents, including increased mobility and community revitalization,” Council Member Esmeralda Soria said in an interview. “In fact, studies show that for every $1 invested in public transit such as BRT will result in $4 of economic benefits to the community.”
That said, work remains.
The approved bid is $4.4 million over estimates. City officials plan to make piecemeal cuts to the winning bid – submitted by Teichert & Son Inc. – to match it up with available dollars.
Teichert’s bid was $32.6 million for the project, which would create a 15.7-mile rapid transit line along Blackstone Avenue and Ventura Avenue/Kings Canyon Road. The central station between the two lines will be at Courthouse Park on the east side of Van Ness Avenue. The system will have 51 proposed stops. City officials think the project will spur development along the two major city corridors.
Now city officials will do the same thing they did when bids to reopen the Fulton Mall came in above the available funds – cut.
City officials estimate the process will take a couple of week. Construction is tentatively scheduled to start in mid-March, with an estimated October 2017 completion date.
Among the possible cuts to the project are $1.2 million for bus stop shelters, $1.9 for communication equipment and $1.1 million to buy pre-owned ticket vending machines instead of new ones.
Council Member Lee Brand, one of two no votes along with Council Member Steve Brandau, reiterated his support for the project, but didn’t like the idea of once again awarding a bid and then trimming around the edges.
“With a $4.4 million shortfall and numerous assumptions, including reliance on a grant application, this action is fiscally irresponsible,” Brand said in an interview. “The proper course should have BRT work rebid under new design guidelines that reflect lower costs.”
He noted the difference between the budget and available money was 16 percent. “That’s a major disparity,” he said adding that it was “reckless” to proceed. The Fulton Mall gap between bid and cash on hand, he added, was $2 million, a much more manageable gap than the BRT bid. Cutting that much amounts to “gutting the project.”
The bid approval also authorized city staff to pursue a Measure C New Technology grant to help with the project’s cost.
“While initial bids exceeded our engineering estimates, our staff researched for additional grant funding to proceed with the project and still operate within our budget,” Soria said.
Council Member Clint Olivier appeared torn, seeming to want to have it both ways. He said his “spiritual home” was with opponents Brand and Brandau, but he supported awarding the bid.
“Let’s try this and see how it goes,” he said.
▪ In other business, the council voted 7-0 to approve the final piece of the city’s revamped development code. The last part covered multifamily housing.
The council in November approved most of the code – an updated set of rules and regulations that will guide how the city will grow, look and feel over the coming years. It hasn’t had a wholesale update since 1964.
But the multifamily portion of the code was delayed. Further discussions were held between Fresno officials and the city’s multifamily developers over updated design standards that led to Thursday’s approval.
Swearengin noted that there was some lingering anger over the end result, and nobody seemed totally happy. That, she said, meant the final product probably hit the policy sweet spot.