Carter Street project end in sight, bridge debate erupts over shoring structure

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By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


The Elkader City Council meeting was a place for construction updates last week, as both Carter Street and the Keystone Bridge received attention. 


For the Carter Street project, engineer and on-site MSA representative Hunter Nix provided an update on lingering questions. One was where the project stands in terms of which phase it’s currently in, but that’s not easily answered because of all that’s occurred previously. 


Nix stated that elements of phase 2 still need to be corrected, namely the paving mistakes from phases 1 and 2. As Nix detailed, a segment of Carter Street from the North First Street intersection was placed six inches north of the planned alignment. The remainder of that block to the Haven Street intersection was placed with the west 100 feet having a jog back to the north, which was contrary to direction given by MSA and the city to the contractor. 


As for what remains in phases 3 and 4, Nix reported in a separate interview that “the contractor is working to complete placement of the new stone subbase, removal of the 100 feet of phase 2 pavement placed in error last fall and prepping for concrete paving which is expected to occur before the end of June.”


Nix said phase 3 includes Haven Street, the intersection by the hospital and approximately 300 feet of Carter Street. Phase 4 consists of placing water main and limited storm sewer as well as replacement of the roadway pavement on Carter Street from the intersection by the hospital out to the city limits.


But it hasn’t just been mistakes that have hindered the project. There has also been an ongoing issue involving the soil, which has been deemed unsuitable and unstable. 


According to Nix, this means there is a significant amount of material that is unsuitable to compact back in the trench after placement of water, sanitary and storm sewer, which requires material to be hauled away and replaced with a more stable backfill material. 


This soil issue, according to both Nix and Elkader City Administrator Jennifer Cowsert, could eventually end up costing the city more money, as could the additional inspection time spent by Nix on-site because construction is taking longer than anticipated. At this rate, it is expected to surpass the allotted working days in the contract. 


Cowsert stated that, as of June 4, the contractor had 21 working days left, but the new paving for the project wasn’t expected to start until the middle of this week and would take between four and five days to complete, assuming all went according to plan. 


Nix noted the contractor, JB Holland, replaced the previous paving contractor in May and the new one will not use the stringless paving method which led to errors during previous paving. Nix was adamant the paving issues “do not appear to have contributed to the current schedule concerns.”  


“It is MSA’s opinion the delays are not directly related to the paving errors,” Nix said in an interview. 


The schedule concerns were addressed at the meeting, when councilmember Randy Henning asked when the project would be completed. Nix responded it is most likely going to be the end of August before everything is finished. 


Cowsert acknowledged there is frustration from the residents living in the construction zone, but also from residents on Davidson Street, which is currently being used as the detour route to access the hospital. 


“It will be good to get the intersection paved so access to the hospital can go back to Carter Street,” Cowsert said.


Nix understands the frustration, but stated residents have been “patient and respectful” during the process.


Keystone Bridge

Then, in regard to the Keystone Bridge project, the originally planned shoring structure design meeting tentatively set for June 20 has been delayed. Cowsert said in an email, “We will not have the information needed to have a special meeting on Monday night.” 


Relaying information from project engineer Nate Miller, Cowsert added, “the contractor did not have the information yet.” It was previously estimated the design could be finished by mid-June. 


Additionally, the council also briefly discussed putting in a temporary pedestrian bridge, but nixed the idea due to cost and time. A shuttle service also seems unlikely, given the $1,000 per day cost charged by the contractor. 


A larger topic brought up by council member Deb Schmidt focused on an evaluation done prior to the project start, which explored the possibility of building a shoring structure before construction. But it was deemed unnecessary. 


“The risk was not worth the cost, but now we have the cost…how do they come up with that assumption?” Schmidt questioned.


“Because they had been monitoring the cracks for 15 years and they haven’t moved, so they thought it was a low risk that anything would happen,” Cowsert replied. 


The exchange prompted council member Peggy Lane to state, “I think hindsight is a wonderful thing and now all these people are armchair quarterbacking it—why didn’t you do this, that or the other thing. It’s not like they went into this willy-nilly without any consideration…it’s a project like any other, that as you get into it, you’re going to have potential problems come up that you didn’t anticipate.” 


Schmidt continued, though, bringing up that, to her knowledge, previous councils were not informed or asked about the possibility of building a shoring structure prior to construction. 


Lane responded, “I’m not an engineer. I’m relying on their expertise as engineers to advise us.”


Schmidt restated the concern, that the cost outweighed the risk, according to the information she was citing at the meeting. 


Mayor Josh Pope confirmed this assessment was between the engineers and was never brought to the council. Lane added, “they never asked us about cost versus risk. That was an engineer consideration within their plan. That wasn’t presented to [council].”


What Schmidt brought up was an evaluation done by the engineers, which Miller clarified was done throughout the project development process, that looked at needed structural repairs as well as the overall project cost and schedule. 


Regarding the cost versus risk mentioned by Schmidt, Miller acknowledged that, “During the design phase of this project, it was determined the bridge could be stabilized in place without the need for temporary shoring. As such, installation of a temporary shoring system would have been unnecessary added cost to the project.” 


According to Miller, that decision was reached based on the availability of information at the time, after a detailed assessment of the condition of the bridge and after consulting with industry experts and an engineering sub-consultant. 


However, given recent developments, the widening crack, the project shutdown and now the necessity of a shoring structure, Miller admitted, “the decision to not install a temporary shoring system is now under question, and rightly so.”


“This decision was based on the best information we had available at the time, and we feel the design team did their due diligence in identifying the condition of the bridge and designing accordingly,” he said. “Rehabilitation projects involve a certain amount of inherent risk due to the uncertainty associated with existing conditions. Several efforts were taken during the design phase to ascertain these conditions, however, the isolated deterioration near the south end of the east arch was more significant than previously identified.” 


While the cost for the shoring structure, whether built prior to the project beginning or now, would not be that different, what is different is the impact building it now has had on the construction schedule and the closure of pedestrian access until it’s built. 


As Miller stated, this “would not have been required had the shoring been installed prior to construction.”

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