Forsyth County commissioners expressed extreme frustration over issues with plans for a proposed road extension in south Forsyth, with elected officials calling it “unacceptable.”
During Tuesday’s work session, commissioners heard an update on plans for a project to connect the two existing portions of Ronald Reagan Boulevard from Tom Ziegler with Pond & Company, an architecture and engineering firm out of Peachtree Corners.
Ziegler said an error had been caught a week ago, revealing that the construction bid price given by Pond did not include the full price of the project.
County and engineering officials estimated the mistake could mean the project cost would increase by about $10 million over the original bid.
“This is what the deal is: Pond messed up,” Ziegler said. “We put together our bid tabs, our quantities and it appears a recommendation that was made by our sub-consultant, Moreland Altobelli, on how to deal with some bad soils didn’t make it into the final bid set, so what happed is basically we don’t have an accurate bid estimate that has been submitted to the department of engineering.”
Ziegler said the estimate failed to include costs associated with geotechnical issues of building the road in the floodplain along Big and Bagley creeks and he wanted “in no way want to leave you with a mindset that we’ve come up with a solution to do that or even offset the cost in a big way.”
“Anybody that’s familiar with that route, it’s probably the wettest, one of the most difficult, most challenging alignments in the entire county,” he said. “If there’s another one more difficult, I’m not aware of it.”
He said the company’s equipment would not be able to reach the construction area.
“Literally, the type of studies that Moreland Altobelli did was not only driven augers, not even hand augers, they literally had to walk in, sink three or four feet just walking and drive steel hand poles to see where they got good materials,” Ziegler said.
The extension project was part of the $200 million transportation bond approved by voters in 2014, which will provide $44 million for the project, and commissioners awarded the engineering bid to Pond in 2015 for $909,000.
The $3.6-mile extension will connect the two portions of the road from McFarland Parkway to Majors Road and will include two lanes in each direction, a 20-foot-wide raised median, curb and gutter, a five-foot sidewalk and 10-foot multi-use path.
According to information from the county, the project’s estimated start date is in 2020.
Ziegler said that Pond does not handle geotechnical engineering, which is why they subcontracted with Moreland Altobelli, and had considered going with another firm to provide those services, but said that was unlikely.
“What’s really complicated this is that Moreland’s given us a solution, and the downside is that if we’d included that solution in the plans, we would have been more accurate with the bid estimate,” Ziegler said, “but it still may not have been an estimate that y’all are comfortable with because of how high it would have driven the cost.”
The update drew some big responses from commissioners, with some asking if they could cancel the contract with Pond or seek legal action.
Asked if they could discuss the issues during the meeting’s executive session, a closed portion of the meeting where commissioners can privately discuss litigation, land use and personnel, County Attorney Ken Jarrard said he would address it at a later time.
District 2 Commissioner Dennis Brown, often the board’s least vocal member, called the mistake “completely unacceptable with everybody involved.”
“This is the most egregious incompetence I have ever witnessed in anything I’ve ever been affiliated with,” Brown said.
Brown said those living in the area previously had issues with Pond over a situation with stream buffer credits and other increases totaling $30 million since the project was introduced, and Johnson said this was the second time this year there was a significant price change.
“We had a quantities issue where we had $2.5 million in excess costs for sidewalk that Pond found and took out, but this was at the time that we had other costs skyrocketing on the same project,” Johnson said. “… This is the second time in 2019 that Pond has gotten quantities wrong.”
Chair Laura Semanson compared the issue to a homebuyer receiving bad information from a consultant.
“I kind of see that this way,” she said. “We’ve contracted for professional services, and those professional services gave us information that we acted upon that was not complete or correct, and I just feel like there should be some sort of redress for us as a county. I would like to know whether this is going to significantly impact the construction and the delivery of this project, because as we know, this project has gone up in the tens of millions of dollars from when it was originally designed.”