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Consultant on interchange project blasted
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The cost of planning the Mitchell/Service/99 interchange has climbed by $763,378 and on Monday a visibly steamed Mayor Anthony Cannella unloaded on the consulting firm hired to perform the environmental and design work.

The Ceres City Council voted 5-0 to reluctantly approve the three-quarters-of-a-million-dollars change order but not before chastising Nolte Engineering.

In April 2007 the city hired the firm to put the project on a fast track so that the city would be project should state road funds become available this year. Projects which have had all environmental studies complete and planning 65 percent completed are more competitive for millions of highway project dollars in California.

City officials consider a new and improved freeway interchange at Mitchell and Service roads as necessary for the marketability and development of the Southern Gateway for regional commercial uses. The current interchange does not provide for a good highway access, particularly when it comes to Service Road and areas to be developed west of Highway 99.

Taking the brunt of the rebuke was Nolte's senior vice president Chris Metzger, who admitted that he should have had hands-on management of the project at its inception.

"I'm so frustrated by this project," said Mayor Cannella. "I have to be careful what I say."

Metzger admitted that Nolte should have been more upfront about the costs rather than tailor the work around what the city wanted to spend. He said his firm sometimes tries to "work with a client the way the client likes to work."

"We all went in with rose-colored glasses," said Metzger. "We were not being realistic."

Cannella was livid. "Did you really think we wanted rose colored glasses?"

Metzger said his firm agreed to forgive $200,000 worth of work already done but that proceeding on environmental work was going to cost the extra $763,378.

If there was any good news to share on Monday, Metzger said it is that there is better communication now between city staff, Nolte and Caltrans. The state agency has been difficult to deal with but has ultimate authority over approval of Nolte's work.

City Manager Brad Kilger agreed, saying, "Instead of one set of eyes you have three sets of eyes watching this project."

In August the City Council took Nolte to task for delays and rising costs. Part of the delay was due to the fact that Nolte and Caltrans were at odds over whether designs on paper would work in real life. Specifically, Nolte designed a dual lane on-ramp concept for southbound Hwy. 99 at both Service and Mitchell. Caltrans later was recommended them to be separate even though the dual lane concept meets Caltrans' standards and would work well, said Metzger.

The single lane design was offered to avoid affecting the existing overpass and adding more costs to the project.

"Getting the environmental work done is very important and we need to move forward with it," said Vice Mayor Chris Vierra, who added that Nolte's performance has been "very disappointing on multiple fronts."

Vierra added that "if they come back to the well one more time, I don't think I can support it."

Councilman Ken Lane agreed saying, "obviously we're not a well here that we can keep digging in." But he said it would be hard to put the brakes and totally stop the project.

Some of costs climbing was attributed to the fact that the city changed the firm doing environmental work and that there was an oversight to an oversight related to a biological study. Caltrans is requiring that mew field samples be collected since old ones were destroyed.

Brian Krcelic, a principal with Jones and Stokes, a subcontractor of Nolte's, said he is confident the environmental document will be finished by the end of the year. The project could conceivably hit a snag, he said, if there are any issues with the federally protected fairy shrimp.

The interchange project consists of:

• Shifting the freeway toward the east at Service Road;

• Widening the existing northbound off-ramp to Mitchell Road to two lanes;

• Building modified interchanges east and west of the freeway at Service Road;

• Widening Mitchell Road to six lanes between Rohde and Don Pedro roads;

• Widening Service Road to six lanes between Moffet and Mitchell roads;

• Realigning El Camino Avenue from Service Road to Sixth Street;

• Realigning Lucas Road to connect to Moffet Road south of Service Road rather than the existing connection to Service Road east of Moffet Road.

It's expected that the project would be split into two phases with the Mitchell portion being tackled first. The first phase will cost an estimated $83 to $84 million while the second phase will be $124 million to $130 million.

Cannella said it's important to move forward to define the project's "footprint" and begin buying right of way.

Kilger pointed out that the extra costs will be borne by the Ceres Redevelopment Agency and not the city's general fund.