Burien council hears presentation on road project cost overruns

Burien Public Works director Maiya Andrews briefed lawmakers Dec. 3 on steps the city is taking to prevent cost overruns that have plagued projects along First Avenue South and Ambaum Boulevard Southwest.

“I’ve had big concerns about several recent projects but my biggest concern is that we not keep making the same mistakes,” Councilmember Jack Block Jr. declared. “

Andrews said the city seeks to keep costs in line by project estimating, monitoring change orders and managing risk along with other cost controls.

City Manager Mike Martin emphasized Andrews has 20 years of experience managing projects.

He said previous public works managers did not have Andrews’ project management experience.

“We are head and shoulders above where we were in project management,” Martin noted.

Martin added the first phase of the First Avenue project that involved undergrounding wires was “extremely complicated.”

He said the various utility agencies did not coordinate very well on the project.

“We’ve evolved,” Martin added.

Andrews noted, “It is important to have the utilities in the game with us.”

Martin noted the franchise agreement with Seattle City Light is ending and Burien is working with other cities on deciding, “how City Light works with us.”

On the Ambaum paving project, Martin said there were significant stormwater problems, the storm drains were in bad shape and there were issues with trees and sidewalks.

He said Ambaum’s asphalt varied in thickness from place to place. He noted the roads had been built by King County 40-60 years ago when Burien was still unincorporated. Burien did not have access to the road construction records, he added.

Andrews noted the reliability of estimates improves as the project matures. After a bid is accepted it is common to add 15 percent for contingencies, she noted.

The public works director said there are many reasons for change orders on a project.

“It is not a bad thing,” Andrews declared. “It is a necessary part of construction.”

Some reasons include unexpected conditions, plan ambiguities, extra unanticipated work or design changes, according to Andrews.

There are controls in place to keep change orders down, according to Andrews. There must be written justification for changes. The state auditor also imposes requirements.

Burien also tries to control costs by identifying and managing risks, Andrews said. She emphasized that quick decisions must be made and the project estimate has to be continuously updated.

An important way to mage risk is to have good agreements with utility purveyors and hold them accountable, Andrews added.

At the end of Andrews’ presentation, Mayor Brian Bennett observed, “Burien has one of the most competent staffs I have seen in the public or private sector.”

Also at the Dec. 3 meeting, Councilmember Block responded to Deputy Mayor Rose Clark’s earlier statement explaining why she abruptly recessed the Nov. 19 council meeting.

At that meeting, Block made motions to remove North Highline from Burien’s proposed annexation area and to set an April election for Burien voters to decide on changing to an elected mayor system of government.

Mayor Bennett and Councilmember Joan McGilton, who often vote with Clark and Councilmember Gerald Robison, were absent. On Block’s annexation motion, council members Lucy Krakowiak and Bob Edgar voted with Block and the motion passed 3-2. Clark recessed the meeting before a vote was taken on the elected mayor proposal.

On Dec. 3, Block said "Recent actions by the majority of the Burien City Council and the City Manager over the issue of annexation have resulted in a divided and polarized community.

“At the Nov. 19th meeting I made several motions off the floor with the intent of ending the problem and putting the community on a positive path toward reconciliation.

“The third motion I was going to make, to add two new officers, was intended to demonstrate to the community that the focus of the council had returned to the needs of Burien.”

The Nov. 19th meeting was the first council session following North Highline voters’ rejection of annexation. Block said he felt that was the appropriate time to address the issue.

He said council members personal schedules should be considered but “it is unrealistic to expect the business of the city to halt because of a council member’s absence.”

He said he proposed the elected mayor election to “put the issue before the voters and if they affirm then move forward with citizen input rather than waste staff time on something that may or may not happen.”

Block disputed Clark’s claim that he had not brought up hiring two new officers during earlier budget deliberations.

“Our city has been awarded a federal COPS grant that will pay a significant portion of providing two new officers to out city,” Block said.

He said the officers could be funded by moving the solid waste fee back to the general fund and increasing the Transportation Benefit District fee by $10.

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