City budgeted $320,000 for binwall repair; lowest bid was over $500,000

Repair of the “binwall” that helps hold in place the steep hillside that overlooks Grand Avenue near Broadway has been on the city of Hannibal’s to-do list for some time. Just when it appeared the project had moved to the head of the list, it has again been pushed back.

The binwall work was slated to be completed in fiscal year 2016. However, when the city was forced to make replacing the Warren Barrett bridge a priority, plans changed. While the city had budgeted $400,000 for work on that bridge, it wasn’t enough. The city had to come up with an additional $165,000 to cover the bid for a new span.

Anticipating that not enough money was included in the budget for the bridge project — the engineer’s estimate for the new structure was $655,000 — in August 2016 City Manager Jeff LaGarce announced the Grand Avenue binwall project would be put on hold so funds earmarked for it could go to help pay for the new bridge.

Jump forward to 2017, when the city council designated $320,000 in the budget for the binwall project. But despite that allocation the project has again been shelved because of financial considerations. This time instead of another project being given preference it’s the bids for the binwall repairs that are the reason behind the delay.

According to information supplied the council by the city manager, the lowest of two binwall bids received was $508,549. The other bid approached $800,000. Reportedly three other contractors obtained a set of plans but decided to not even submit a bid.

Along with rejecting the bids that were received, which the council did on Sept. 19, city staff set out to determine why the bids were “grossly high,” as LaGarce described them.

“All companies expressed some degree of discomfort working on these steep heights and slopes. The spectrum of concern ranged from concerning to frightening,” he said. “All companies except one expressed great uncertainty in the difficulty excavating shale.” Specifically, will it peel off easy, or will it be pulling teeth?

“Several companies did not bid because August is the height of their construction season, and (they) simply lacked time to bid. Less bidders equals limited competition which equals higher project costs.”

While LaGarce readily acknowledges there is nothing the city can do regarding the steepness of the work zone, there might be something that can be done about the other two price-driving factors.

“To address shale unknowns, staff is exploring additional geotechnical work on this shale — to quantify and identify its hardness. Less uncertainty means less risk and leaner bids,” said the city manager. “Several bidders suggested we rebid in the fall with a December due date, which would enable them to bid.”

Addressing two of the primary concerns cited by contractors “should yield more-reasonable bids,” according to LaGarce.

Options that would scale back parts of the original plans are under consideration. If implemented the “costs could be a fraction of the project currently constituted,” said the city manager.

LaGarce doesn’t believe delaying the project again will put lives or property at risk.

“This project is important, but can wait — even another year if necessary — to complete the geo-tech work and still schedule a winter bid opening,” he said. “The binwall is not at risk of collapse.”

The binwall project is not the only work the city has recently put on hold because of unexpectedly high bids. On Sept. 5 the city council, at LaGarce’s recommendation, said “thanks but no thanks” to all bids submitted for the Shinn Lane roundabout project.

At the time LaGarce indicated the project, whose lowest bid came in roughly $300,000 more than was anticipated, would be rebid this month. Bids will be accepted in mid December. Under the city manager’s projected timeline construction would begin next spring.

Reach reporter Danny Henley at danny.henley@courierpost.com