EBR council rejects bid for downtown road project

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- A school bus travels north on St. Louis Street in downtown Baton Rouge Thursday, as a barricade blocks southbound traffic from continuing  in that direction, at its intersection with Louisiana Street. The planned conversion of that one way section of St. Louis Street to two-way traffic has been delayed.
Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- A school bus travels north on St. Louis Street in downtown Baton Rouge Thursday, as a barricade blocks southbound traffic from continuing in that direction, at its intersection with Louisiana Street. The planned conversion of that one way section of St. Louis Street to two-way traffic has been delayed.

Plans to transform St. Louis and St. Ferdinand streets from one-way to two-way streets in downtown Baton Rouge will be delayed for at least a few months following a decision by the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council to reject construction bids for the project.

Some council members at Wednesday's council meeting took issue with a construction contract to have Industrial Enterprises Inc. complete the two-way project for a base bid of $901,442. With the costs of some additional alternate projects, its bid was about $1.12 million.

The engineering estimate for the project's cost was $658,417.

Bryan Harmon, deputy director for the Department of Public Works, said the estimate for the project including the alternates was about $985,000. However, that estimate was not provided in the documents before the Metro Council.

Council members Trae Welch and Joel Boé said they were concerned the bid came in hundreds of thousands of dollars above pre-construction estimates and there was only one bidder listed for the project.

DPW officials said there was one other bidder but that company did not turn in requisite paperwork by a state deadline, rendering it ineligible to participate.

The project will ultimately create two-way roadways on St. Louis Street and St. Ferdinand from South Boulevard to North Boulevard, providing a smoother connection from LSU and Old South Baton Rouge to downtown.

The traffic redirection requires traffic light additions, changes to entrances at the River Center parking garages, lane re-striping and curb improvements, said David Guillory, interim DPW director.

Harmon said rebidding the project will delay construction work for at least two months, but possibly longer if the contractor decides to sue.

"There's a possibility the contractor will file suit for an injunction regarding the project, because he's obviously going to claim it was a valid bid," Harmon said.

Representatives at Industrial Enterprises declined comment when contacted about the councils decision.

Lea Anne Batson, assistant parish attorney, said the Metro Council can reject bids under state law if the bids come in above the pre-construction estimates.

Boé said he was most concerned about the lack of other bidders. He said rebidding it could provide an opportunity for more companies to participate, and potentially provide a lower cost for the city-parish.

The project has been in planning for more than two years, Boé said, so delaying it for a few months to ensure the city-parish is getting the best deal is worth the wait.

"In 90 days, the end result may be exactly what we have, but I don't see prices being any more expensive," he said.

But Harmon said he thinks the project will be more expensive.

"When you re-advertise, the price doesn't go down. It goes up," he said. "I can almost guarantee it will go up."

He also said the traffic signal work for the project is specialized work, which is why so few companies initially bid.

Councilman John Delgado was the only one to object to rejecting the bids.

"(DPW) suggested that the error was on the part of DPW and not the successful bidder, so why would we reject that bid?" Delgado said. "So we rebid with a much higher estimate, and when the bids come in it might be even higher."

The project is to be funded by a $900,000 appropriation approved by the Metro Council in 2010.

Guillory said more than $100,000 of those funds have already gone to pay for engineering work for the road project. He said the construction costs will be paid for with the remaining funds, along with reserve funds from DPW's budget and money from the Green Light Plan, a dedicated tax for road improvements.

"This will push us back a little bit, but we're going to do our due diligence and bring it back to the Metro Council," Guillory said.

Davis Rhorer, director of the Downtown Development District, said the improved traffic flow that will be provided by making the streets two-way is important to the future of downtown traffic flow and to pedestrian safety.

The two streets are in area that gets heavy pedestrian and vehicle traffic from people working or having business to take care of at City Hall, the city courthouse, the 19th Judicial Court House and the Sheriff's Office.

St. Louis Street is currently two-way from North Boulevard to Louisiana Street, because of temporary striping DPW put into place a few months ago.