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By Matt Roy, Independent Newsmedia
Plans to fix one of the Surprise’s main thoroughfares will continue, but at a higher cost than predicted and on a later timeline, which will likely impact already difficult traffic conditions well into the fall school season.
Surprise officials have worked with the Arizona Department of Transportation and Maricopa Association of Governments over the past year to secure federal funds for a $3.3 million project to reconfigure and upgrade a three-mile stretch of Bullard Avenue between Greenway Road and Peoria Avenue.
But higher-than-expected bid responses received by ADOT project managers in April brought city leaders back to the table to decide whether to make up a $400,000 shortfall or, potentially, to reconsider or scrap roadway improvement project altogether.
Surprise Public Works Director Mike Gent explained the problem during a presentation at the June 5 City Council meeting at City Hall, 16000 N. Civic Center Drive.
“ADOT, who was managing the project, recently completed their solicitation and the bids were received considerably higher than the estimates, which is reflective of the market that we’re in today,” said Mr. Gent. “The growth around the Valley, specifically, has led to a shortage in the trades, in the professional trades groups, changing timelines as well as project costs.”
If council rejected the increased cost, officials could either scrap the plan altogether; or reject all bidders, rescope and rebid the project. But in starting over, the city could risk losing the $2.7 million in federal funding expected to pay for the majority of the project.
The panel, following discussion, voted unanimously to approve the $400,000 increase, which will be paid for from unspent transportation improvement funds left in the 2018 budget.
With the additional allocation, the ADOT board will consider awarding the construction contract at their Tuesday, June 15 meeting.
After that, ADOT officials will issue a notice to proceed, after which the winning bidder will have 30 days to start work and 120 days to complete the project, possibly pushing completion into mid-October.
City officials will work closely with ADOT and the contractor to minimize disruptions during construction, which was originally envisioned for completion before the start of the fall school season, Mr. Gent explained.
“Just like any development or project happening within the city, they do have to apply for and receive traffic control permits from us,” Mr. Gent said. “We do get to make sure that access is maintained and that the public is inconvenienced as little as possible.”
District 6 Councilman Todd Tande summed up the potential complexity posed by extending the construction project into the fall semester in an area already experiencing heavy traffic.
“We have three Dysart schools and three charter schools, they’re all elementary, within a two-mile stretch and they all have a thousand students-plus,” Mr. Tande said. “Now, with a lot of the buses not happening, the kids are walking across the street by the hundreds, very important to keep them safe, and if they’re not walking, their parents are driving them across the street, so it’s quite a traffic challenge in front of every one of these schools.”
Project work will include returning Bullard Avenue to two lanes in each direction, while adding protected bike lanes and new traffic signals and crosswalks at the intersections of Acoma Drive and Sweetwater Avenue.
Other improvements will include adding a raised landscape median between Waddell and Greenway roads, as well as other safety and access improvements mandated under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
A nationwide survey published in 2017 by the Association of General Contractors revealed nearly 70 percent of contractors nationwide cited difficulty in finding trade workers, while Arizona was listed among several states, which has experienced a 20 percent decline in construction workers.
However, some local schools are working to help solve the problem by offering vocational training, including West-MEC, which just completed the first year at its Northwest Campus in Surprise, 13201 W. Grand Ave.
Although the new campus does not currently offer construction trades programs, those classes are offered at West-MEC’s campuses in Deer Valley, Glendale and Buckeye.
Programs in air conditioning, general construction, welding and electrical trades will be added as the Surprise campus grows, according to Kyle Backer, a West-MEC spokesman.
“The brand-new Northwest Campus in Surprise just finished its first year in operation, though construction is still underway,” stated Mr. Backer. “Once complete, the 19-acre campus on Dysart and Grand Avenue will be home to over 30 career and technical education courses, including trades programs.”
Such CTE programs are offered to high school juniors and seniors, who attend up to four hours of classes at West-MEC daily to receive training and industry certifications, Mr. Backer explained.
While the Dysart Unified School District does not offer CTE classes for skilled construction laborers, they do offer programs in the related fields of architecture and engineering to meet the needs of a rapidly growing Arizona market, according to Dysart CTE Administrator James Grieshaber.
“A skilled workforce is vital to our community. Dysart is proud to work with students as they learn essential trades like engineering and architecture on our campuses and construction technology at West-MEC,” stated Mr. Grieshaber. “Certified with industry credentials, the students of today are quickly going to be the needed skilled workers that will build our community into the future.”