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Council vents over contractor hired to replace Old Town bridge
Friday, January 11th, 2013
Issue 02, Volume 17.
The council vented at length over the low bid that was submitted to replace the aging bridge at Main Street. That bid was submitted by Granite Construction Co., which was the city’s foe in a seven-year battle over a granite quarry proposed south of Temecula.
In the end, however, council members agreed that they had little choice but to hire Granite to build the bridge that will sport a turn-of-the-century feel.
"If we could all vote ‘no’ and give (the contract) to a different company, we’d do it in a heartbeat," Mayor Mike Naggar said as he was trying to coax a decision out of his reluctant colleagues. Naggar went on to say that the council risked losing a federal infrastructure grant that would pay about 95 percent of the project’s $4.8 million construction cost.
"We really don’t have a lot of options here," Naggar added.
The council was initially at an impasse after city staff noted that Granite had submitted the lowest cost bid of the nine companies that sought the contract. The impasse came after council members said their anger at Granite had tilted them toward abstaining or voting "no."
The impasse gave way to a 4-1 approval vote after a discussion touched on a possible funding loss or further delays in easing Old Town’s erosion and flooding woes.
Councilman Ron Roberts remained the lone holdout.
"I can’t bring myself to vote ‘yes,’ " Roberts explained at one point. "It’s completely against everything I feel is right."
The 30-minute debate marked one of Temecula’s oddest contract decisions in recent memory. It laced elements of a contentious development fight, efforts to tame flood-prone Murrieta Creek and years of planning to replace a nearly 70-year-old concrete bridge.
Granite is a massive publicly-traded company that is based in Watsonville and builds roads, dams and other projects and mines its own construction materials. One of the largest companies of its kind in the nation, Granite typically builds or oversees about 2,000 construction projects nationwide a year, according to its marketing materials.
A seven-year regional battle ended Nov. 15, 2012, when the Pechanga Indian tribe announced a $20.35 million deal that snuffed Granite’s plan to open and operate a granite mine in the hills south of Temecula.
The deal called for the tribe to pay Granite $3 million to purchase the 354 acres that was the heart of the Liberty Quarry plan. The tribe also agreed to pay Granite $17.35 million for key concessions that include agreeing to not own or operate a mine in a vast swath of land through the year 2035.
Temecula spent more than $1 million studying the quarry project and fighting it at hearings and in court. A grassroots environmental group also fought the quarry plan at every turn. Granite spent more than ten times that amount in planning and processing the quarry plan and defending Riverside County from litigation that it triggered.
State law and federal grant requirements left Temecula with scant options after the Main Street bridge construction bids were reviewed, said Greg Butler, city public works director. State law requires public agencies to award such contracts to the lowest qualified bidder, Butler said. And he noted that a federal grant that took years to obtain has "several strings attached."
The new bridge will replace the existing Main Street span, a two-lane concrete structure that was built in 1945. The design of the new bridge, which will feature a stone overlay, was unveiled to a city beautification committee in December 2005. Temecula has already spent about $1 million on design, administration and other costs related to the project.
Granite was Temecula’s contractor on one previous project. In February 2000, the company completed its work on a $10.5 million bridge that spans Temecula Creek. That bridge, which incorporated a Luiseno Indian pattern in its design, carries traffic on Pechanga Parkway.
The Main Street bridge qualified for federal funds because of its age and deteriorating condition, Butler said. Part of its deterioration stems from erosion that has occurred along Murrieta Creek in recent decades.
Local officials are scrambling to end an eight-year gap in work to tame the flood-prone creek. They say a lobbying push has turned urgent as Temecula, Murrieta and Camp Pendleton seek to avoid a repeat of flash flooding that caused $93 million in damage nearly two decades ago.
Many Old Town Temecula merchants and residents still recall the flooding and ponder the future risks posed by Old Town’s status as a "pinch point" on the creek that narrows as it passes through the historic business district.
The first phase of a massive federal flood control project has widened the channel of the creek south of Old Town. That work allows water to drain faster as it flows downstream and through a narrow gorge at the confluence of the river that forms at Temecula’s southeast corner and flows 27 miles to the ocean.
The second phase of the flood control project, which has been stalled for years and could cost as much as $117 million, would bring improvements in the area from First Street in Old Town to Rancho California Road. Replacing the Main Street bridge is a key component of that flood control work.
Granite is expected to begin work to replace the Main Street bridge in about two months. The area will be closed to traffic after work begins, Butler said. That will force residents of Pujol Street and some nearby roads to use the existing bridges at First Street and Rancho California Road to reach Interstate 15 or other parts of the city.
The bridge replacement work is expected to take nine months to a year, Butler said.
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