City Manager Mike Martin Takes Responsibility for $500,000 Cost Overrun on Asphalt Overlay Project

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by Ralph Nichols

Burien’s recently completed asphalt overlay project ended with an estimated cost overrun of about $500,000.

And, City Manager Mike Martin told The B-Town Blog Monday (Aug. 15), “We should have known” about the cost overrun while work was still in progress.

Although Martin is up the ladder when it comes to monitoring project costs – construction management is on the ground; next is in-house staff management – he made no excuses for this lapse.

“The buck stops with me,” Martin said. “The fact of the matter is I should have known and I didn’t. It was sloppy project management. These were my employees.”

But, he added, the city became aware of the cost overrun “when we started closing the books on the project” – including final billings from contractors – “about two weeks” before receiving a letter complaining about excessive costs was sent to the city.

“We were already working on this by then,” Martin said.

A project engineer with the city, directly involved in management of the asphalt overlays, is no longer employed by Burien – “a personnel matter that I can’t get into at this time,” he noted.

Tucci & Sons of Tacoma was general contractor for the first phase of the project, which involved placing a two-inch asphalt overlay on several major streets, along with “related improvements.”

Asphalt overlays were made on Ambaum Blvd. between SW 112th and SW 156th streets, 4th Ave. SW between SW 154th and 156th streets, S/SW 128th St. between Des Moines Memorial Drive and Ambaum, and SW 148th St. between Ambaum and 4th Ave. SW.

Phase two of city pavement improvements, also approved by the city council last year and funded in part by a $10 car license tab fee, is maintenance of more than 260 lane miles of city streets over the next 18 years.

Total cost of the 20-year asphalt overlay and street maintenance program is $19.4 million.

Complaint about Asphalt Overlay Project
John H. O’Brien of Burien, the engineer who sent the letter of complaint about management of phase one of this project to the city council, said funding “was supposed to only be used to improve the pavement condition of local streets.”

Yet storm drainage and sidewalk work was done with these funds on both Ambaum and S/SW 128th, O’Brien claimed. Even so, the new sidewalks were built below minimum safety standards, he said.

City public works personnel made it known, however, as work began last fall, that needed storm drainage improvements and sidewalk replacement would precede the asphalt overlays on those streets.

“The only positive thing that I can say concerning this project is that the quality of work on the surface appears to be better than the completed work on First Avenue South, phase I, and Town Square,” O’Brien concluded.

O’Brien was a project engineer for Burien on the troubled 1st Ave. S. Project, and left city employment at about that time. Martin also declined to discuss this personnel matter.

The City Responds
“As you are aware from your own work with the City of Burien, we continually monitor and inspect projects like this for compliance and relevant construction standards,” Burien Public Works Director Larry Blanchard said in a responding letter to O’Brien.

“That’s the case with this project as well, and we disagree with your assessment of project deficiencies.”

Martin was more specific, telling The B-Town Blog the city was required by the federal government to meet more stringent standards for sidewalk and related improvements on the 1st Ave. S. Project because federal funds were involved.

On the other hand, sidewalk improvements made as part of the asphalt overlay program were paid for with local funds. But “absolutely yes, these sidewalks were built to adequate standards.”

He noted that federal projects cost 30-40 percent more because federal funds bring federal requirements.

Poor management and improper use of funds resulted in a $2.35 million cost overrun, O’Brien also said.

Blanchard replied that the city is “in the process of closing the project and will have the final budget figures when we do. It is likely that unexpected field conditions among other issues are instrumental in placing the project over budget, but not close to the order of magnitude you suggest.”

Martin said he is taking steps to insure that such a cost overrun doesn’t occur in the future.

This likely includes retaining a firm he’s worked with in the past “to conduct an organizational assessment of the Public Works Department, and find ways to change both or organization and the way we handle projects.”

Here’s the main part of O’Brien’s letter, which is included in Monday’s Burien City Council packet (you can also download a PDF of just the letter here):

Dear Council Members:

For close to year I having been reading with interest the B-Town Blog and city’s construction updates concerning the completion of the work by Tucci and Sons Construction Company in doing city street overlays and what was supposed to be minor sidewalk and drainage repair work. This work authorized by the council and was paid for through the issuance of a $8.7 million bond issue. The bond was suppose to only be used to improve the pavement condition of local streets with the current Tucci Project being the first of several during 2010 and 2011. This promised work was going to ensure that local arterial streets are pothole free well into the future. Instead of a pavement restoration project what I have watched for the last year seems to be more of a drainage and sidewalk replacement project of two roadways, 128th and Ambaum Blvd..,. Instead of the promised project we the taxpayers ended up with a project that:

  • Doesn’t allow the bond issue to live up to the promised 2010-2011overlay program, shown in Exhibit ‘A’ or a project that restores ten (10) city streets. Instead a significantly reduced amount of work will be completed with the proposed deletion of $1.35 million of work under the current project that will reduce by half the number of streets to be repaired by the current project.
  • Has resulted in major cost overruns of more than $2.35 million on a $7.39 million contract, at the time of my public records request. and work is still ongoing and overruns are likely to get larger. Either the project was very poorly planned during design or poorly managed during construction. In either case the taxpayers of the city are not getting what was promised in the bond issue and during a period of low city income that threatens city programs. More on this subject later.
  • Resulted in major public inconvenience due to lack of adequate traffic control which didn’t comply with state adopted Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) work zone traffic control standards and resulted in disjointed sidewalks that didn’t provide for pedestrian passage or comply with American with Disability Act (ADA) guidelines for pedestrian passage through work zones. This lack of maintaining adequate safety was well documented in multiple letters and complaints filled in the B-town Blog and to based on those reports to city staff. Still nothing was apparently done or is being done in the final stages of the project to correct the problem. I will not dwell on the subject, but there appears to be a general lack of concern about public safety and public liability, in the public works department, connected with work constructed on city streets. This is based not only on this project and but on my own recent experience with city staff when I was nearly in a accident due to unsafe construction activities where the city employee responsible for overseeing the work seemed to condone the unsafe construction traffic control enforcement and other work in the city that fails to meet accepted standards. A copy of my previous correspondence on the issue is attached as Exhibit ‘B’. Needless to say, I didn’t think another compliant, by me, would make this safety concern a staff priority!
  • Failed to correct sidewalk ADA deficiencies and in fact replaced facilities with new non-compliant ones and left noncompliant ones immediately adjoining new compliant ones. At a minimum all crosswalks ramps along all overlaid streets were required to meet ADA standards and to connect to ADA complainant ramps were pedestrian facilities are present. This is based on local agency guidelines published by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). for project that are minor pavement overlay projects. For all other projects fully ADA compliant facilities are required where they can be provided.    Based on the completed work on at least Ambaum and S/SW 128th Streets these roadway should have resulted in fully compliant ADA passable sidewalks. Instead sidewalk were left that don’t comply and were in fact were replaced with sidewalks that don’t meet ADA standards by:
    • Not providing ADA compliant ramps at all intersections. Facilities were actually reconstructed with non-ADA compliant ramps and old sytle one sleft at multiple locations in which ADA compliant facilities could have been easily constructed. o    Not providing a minimum 3-foot minimum width plus one foot clear zone from obstructions in numerous locations on 128th and Ambaum. As shown in Figure 2 easily moved utility poles reduce the width to below these standard that could have been move to meet ADA standards but also clear zone traffic standards that place poles no closer than eighteen (18) inches from the face of curb not in the curb. These utility relocations would have been completed at the expense of the utilities performing the work under city franchise agreements.
    • Not having a maximum sidewalk cross slopes of 2%. This includes at driveway openings where existing non-standard ramps were left or only partially replaced or replaced with ones with slopes of greater than 2%. And not eliminated sidewalks that have adjoining panels of different heights. I was surprise to see whole blocks of marginally acceptable sidewalks replaced while whole sections that were in worst shape remain.
  • It is hard to understand why the previously consultant recommended mid-block refuge island just north of SW 134th St. was not replaced, the island was installed to decrease the crossing distance of the street, in an area where pedestrians cannot see approaching traffic . This item along with directional crosswalks and “Use crosswalk” regulatory signing were installed ( that are also now missing) to direct pedestrians to safe crosswalk locations following pedestrian fatalities on Ambaum. The accidents were mainly the result of jaywalking in areas of close proximity to signalized crossing. These items improve safety and should be replaced.

As for the cost overruns, I was surprised when I read that major work had been completed on the project given that proposed improvements included work on SW 152nd, Maplewild, 160th and other streets had not been started. As a result of reading this, I searched the Burien website for information on why they were not being completed and didn’t find any information of the subject. This search included going though the last six (6) months of council agendas looking for council items on change orders or other proposed discussion on the subject. Based on this I concluded that this is something the city doesn’t want taxpayers to know and resulted in my Washington Open records request for the project bid tabs, current pay estimates and change orders for the project.

My request which involved readily available information that should have taken no more than a few minutes to prepare (they are items that are to be maintained by the project manager) took more than 3 weeks to receive and were only received after notifying city staff that I had not relieved that materials after a second promised delivery date was missed. Copies of the correspondence concerning the public records request are attached as Exhibit ‘C’, the materials received are included in Exhibit ‘D’, ‘E’ and ‘F’, a disk providing the original electronic files is also provided for your reference.

Some of the materials that I received were basically illegible and clearly indicate that most the r items were put together only after receiving my request of June 22, 2011. The change orders are redraft in nature and technically not subject to my request since there are unsigned change orders. But the fact is I did receive them and this only added to my impression of the current mismanagement at the city. As for them being prepared following my request, it is easy to see that that the materials are dated weeks after my request. This includes the pay estimate dated July 7, 2011 and all the non approved change orders. 2-4, which reference this pay estimate. The final cost in the city provided documents would have been known until the pay estimate was approved by the contractor. This would indicate that the only cost overrun that may have been brought to the council attention at the time of my request was for a relatively small change order, in the scope of the cost overruns; Change Order 1, for the replacement of trees is in the amount of $195,742. But as stated I was unable to find any reference in the council agenda’s for the project and it was not executed by the City Manger as of July 20, 2011. So it would seem that even the council was not aware of the scope of the problem, unless it was being discuss in private session in violation of open meeting requirements. It should also be noted that I only received partial payment information for Bid Schedules A, D and E that are not proposes for deletion, It is hard to believe that no costs have been occurred on the other shedules as of the July 7, 2011 pay estimate since the contractor was entitled to partial mobilization costs on these segments following arriving of site.

What I have been able to determine from the materials provided is:

  • A significant change in scope occurred on the project that lead to a $2.35 million cost overruns that included significant increases in the amount of drainage, sidewalk, curb and gutter, property restoration and signal interconnect work that should have been known to be completed prior to the project going to bid. Wasn’t an adequate coordination none with other city employees or county staff to know the problems and wasn’t a walk though of the project done prior to the project being bid? Staff and the consultant hired to design the project should have known to within a few percent what curb and gutter and sidewalk needed to be replaced and know most of the drainage and signal work that had to be done. The quantities of these bid items more than doubled from the original quantities and were completed at much higher bid prices than those that were originally bid! I would also like to know where the change order is for these new prices that are shown in the pay estimates. Changes in prices require a change order and are not just given for the sake of appeasing a contractor!
  • That the use of generally more expensive force account work was used for new drainage work and signal work added to the contract that could have been negotiated with the contractor at unit prices at a reduced cost. The city paid to have equipment sit around on site well this work was being done under force account when it could have been doing other work while prices were negotiated. As far as I could tell walking and driving the roadways, on a daily basis, little or any of this work was an emergency considering the roadways were reduced to two lanes that already restricted traffic. ?    That attention to following the contractual requirements found in the project special provisions and the Washington State Standard Specifications were ignored by all levels of city staff. This is evidenced by the lack of executed change orders, changes in unit prices without change orders, and the unofficial working day extension based on the length of time work has been ongoing easily exceeding the number of working days provided in the contract.
  • That the whole management structure was aware of the problems and did nothing to correct them considering that the problem didn’t happen overnight.

As far back as Pay Estimate 4, which are reviewed and approved by the city manager and public work director changes already had occurred on the project that required council action to address and to date of by request had not addressed by council.    Where were the city manager and public works director in overseeing the project and ensuring that city rules and state purchasing guidelines being followed? Mismanagement of this scale resulted in the resignation of the Seattle School Superintendent in a much larger organization were daily activities were less likely to be known.

Again, I cannot believe the project mismanagement at all levels that would have resulted in $2.35 million dollars of cost overruns on a $7.39 million project that would not have been addressed without required council action and apparently took a public records request to even begin. Surely all levels of management are responsible and the tax payers did not get what they were promised in the bond issue good roads for the future.

The only positive thing that I say concerning this project is that quality of work on the surface appears to be better than the completed work on 1st Avenue South, Phase I and Town Square. But only time will tell about the true quality.

I look forward to your response on what is going to be done to address this mismanagement at all levels. If you have any questions please write to me at my home address or email me at [email protected]

Thank-you for your prompt attention to this matter.

John H. O’Brien, Jr.

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26 Responses to “City Manager Mike Martin Takes Responsibility for $500,000 Cost Overrun on Asphalt Overlay Project”
  1. Spaced says:

    Does this mean he will personally pay for the overrun? Or maybe it was a case of “mistakes were made”.

  2. Get a clue burien city council says:

    So let me see if I have got this straight. The three major projects the city of burien has handled in the last several years are the town square, redoing 1st ave, and now repaving ambaum. The town square is empty. The project on 1st ave still isnt done, and the ambaum project isnt done and is currently 30 percent over budget.

    But sure mike. I think you and the city of burien are absolutely the right people to annex white center and effectively manage the replacement of 75 million in delayed infrastructure projects.

  3. Coverofnight says:

    “…Martin said he is taking steps to insure that such a cost overrun doesn’t occur in the future.”

    I hope those steps are toward the exit door! I’ve worked on enough public sector projects to know that half a million dollar overrun on this size project is totally unacceptable. The Council should be asking for his immediate resignation (yeah, dream on, C.O.N.). But then he goes on to say,

    “…This likely includes retaining a firm he’s worked with in the past “to conduct an organizational assessment of the Public Works Department, and find ways to change both or organization and the way we handle projects.”

    Are you kidding me?!! How much more of our tax dollars are going to be spent reviewing this Department? I’ll make it easy for you – Sounds like the whole staff should be out the door with Martin, too! In a week I could find at least 30 ethical guys from the construction industry that would be happy to staff that Department – they’d be non-union, too!

    It would be interesting to know specifics regarding the personnel matter between O’Brien and the City. Is his letter just sour grapes or was a legitimate whistle-blower forced out from City employment? The letter and photos do bring up some interesting concerns.

    I shake my head in disgust as I read this article – I hope we get some answers soon. But please, provide them without getting into my wallet again!

    • Rainycity says:

      If it wasn`t for unions, your pathetic ass wouldn`t be where it is now so STFU.

    • concerned citizen says:

      The Public Works Department is non-union now. That is why the city manager treats them so bad. If they were union they would be a much better department with a chance to actually succeed.

  4. Wheels says:

    If Martin had shown this incompetence in the private sector, he would have been fired. What sort of hold does he have over the council members that they never hold him accountable for anything? When will the voters ever hold the council responsible? If the current council members are re-elected, then Burien deserves a crook for a city manager.

    • Eaton B. Verz says:

      Amen, Brother….

    • Burien Merchant says:

      What is Mike Martin requiring of his Economic Developement Director as far as Economic Development. I see another area where he has dropped the ball. We have a big hole in the middle of our town and businesses closing left and right. People should be more vocal because as Burien goes down, so do the value of residents homes. Ask for some accountability residents!

  5. Erik Robbins says:

    Any word on when 1st Ave Phase 1 (and Phase 2) will ever be completed? This is so embarrassing. The Normandy Park section of 1st Ave looks great. And, has anyone seen the newly updated 216th in Des Moines by Wesley Gardens and the Library? it looks amazing. Why on Gods green earth is this so difficult for Burien?

    • concerned citizen says:

      Phase 1 money was spent on the lawsuit Merlino filed against the city. There is no Phase 2 money.

      • Erik Robbins says:

        Sounds awesome. $500K ( I heard more likely $800K) in cost over runs on the Ambaum project. and $1,000,000.00+ for lawsuit on the Phase 1 failed project. Sweet. Good times.

  6. Jay says:

    The reason it’s so difficult is because we hired an incompetent city manager and we have a city council that continues to support him. Imagine what will happen when we annex White Center. Maybe the consulting firm should add another 30% onto the annual expenses for the stupid factor. No business would allow this kind of gross negligence-but we do here in Burien. World class city my ass!

  7. TcB says:

    This would appear to be the time to allow the curmudgeons to complain all they want.

  8. Lynnette says:

    Hmm, isn’t it interesting that the common denominator in the “personnel issues” mentioned in this story is Mike Martin? Isn’t it interesting that Mike Martin can’t deny that he is responsible for a $500,000 oops in a vital street project? I could add a few Mike Martin stories of my own — and I suspect MANY other Burien residents could also. TAKE NOTE, VOTERS: Gordon Shaw confessed to being the one who saddled Burien with Mike Martin. Mr. Shaw is up for re-election. Let’s BE SURE he is NOT re-elected. We can’t afford any more mistakes like Mike Martin. Ed Dacy, running for Burien city council position #2, is 100% pro-Mike Martin. He has actually admitted in campaign comments that, if elected, he will renew Mike Martin’s contract as city manager. It is VERY important that we don’t let him win. As yet, it is uncertain whether Ed Dacy or Mr. Duff will be running against Lucy Krakowiak for Burien Council position #2, but that doesn’t matter. Ms. Krakowiak would NEVER agree to keeping Mike Martin around. VOTE LUCY!

    • Burien Merchant says:

      I want the the new members voted in to help burien business. Who, exactly, is tackling that issue????

    • john poitras says:

      Mr Shaw needs to go. He is probably the worst city council member we have. I watched his behavior at a recent city council meeting where he appeared spend most of it on the phone or lost in la la land. This cc member is unfit to govern and needs to be voted out of office. We need to spread the word as he has been getting away with his ineptitude and disinterest in doing the job he was elected to do for way too long.. He is also gung ho for anexing white center.. I wonder what his real motivation is.. The guy needs to go
      ELECT BOB EDGAR!! Someone who actually gives a darn about quality of life in Burien.

  9. Btowner says:

    How is the council going to make this right? Seems like Snooki and Sons…I mean Tucci and Sons should be held responsible for a more competent company to come in and re-do it correctly.The whole Snooki team seemed somewhat flighty in there approach to getting the job done.They would work one day then disappear for two weeks. Above all…aren’t there liabilities and law suits looming if the work was not done to correctly? What is Burien doing to cover its a**… I mean our A**! Do Mr.Martin and the City think accepting responsibility makes everything OK??

  10. Feral dog says:

    I was always raised to accept responsibility for my actions and inactions but that also meant I take care of the problem, being it making restitution or whatever, so is this Mike Martin character going to cough up the funds for “his responsibility”. I don`t know
    (or care to know) who this cat is but I know the people on this board sure make him out to be pretty inept. Did he win the job of city manager by default or was he voted in a hasty decision like Obama before the people realized he`s a socialist and what a dumb ass move it was?

  11. john poitras says:

    The current city council except for Lucy K needs to be voted out of office.. They have utterly failed in their executive responsibility to control and direct the city manager.. Apparently whatever he dictates the city council blithely follows down the garden path. They have abrogated their responsibility to do what they were elected to do and that is oversee the running of the city.. Apparently most of them see a council job as a free ride for great health insurance and yet don’t do a lot to earn it. The annexation of white center is a perfect example. The City Council should have selected a firm to do a cost analysis rather than allowing the city manager to use a firm he has connections with to do the job.
    I question their findings and it appears that Mr Martin is all for annexing a very high crime area which has seen 2 recent murders and a 25% increase in crime in the last 6 months.
    I don’t know what his agenda is but it imo does not line up with what is best for the current residents of Burien.. In these economic times I think we could do a lot better with a change in personnel.. The current City Council is unlikely to step up to the plate and so the only alternative is to replace them with more resident friendly representatives.

  12. interested says:

    Mr. Martin may “take responsibility” for these cost overruns but I hold the council responsible for not supervising Mr. Martin. You cannot let him just keep hiring his buddies to do the city’s work. Isn’t there something in our municipal code about reviewing with the council when overruns reach a certain amount? Like $25,000?
    But $500,000? Really?!
    Who IS running this city? Consultants?

  13. concerned citizen says:

    Does Mike Martin ever tell the truth? I have worked with Mr. O’Brien, he is extremely intelligent and very thorough as a project manager/engineer. I have no doubt Mr. O’Briens facts are correct in his letter. Yes Mr. O’Brien is a former city employee as a project manager/engineer. One of the reasons Mr. O’Brien and the city parted ways was do to the fact that the city does not continually monitor and inspect projects for compliance and relevant construction standards as Larry Blanchard claims.

    I have witnessed city inspectors drive by a job site, slow down a little and take a quick glance then continue to drive on. Nice inspection.

    I have also heard city employees say the cost overun for this project to be more in the $800,000 to $1.5 million range. Sounds to me like maybe there needs to be a full blown investigation on this mismanaged project.

    So Mike Martin can’t manage his Public Works Department and he wants to annex White Center and put even more burden on the PWD. Sounds like a wonderful idea. Maybe I’ll take my tax dollars to Des Moines.

    I agree with John Poitras. Replace certain council members with more resident friendly representatives and also get rid of Team Kent,Mike Martin & Larry Blanchard.

  14. Joe says:

    There are two sides to every story. Sounds like John Obrien is bitter about losing his job at the City

    • concerned citizen says:

      You would be bitter to if you were let go for trying to monitor and inspect projects for compliance and relevant construction standards, also known as, doing your job!!!

      • Joe says:

        I am an engineer who does this kind of work. The truth is that if you ask ten different engineers you probably will get ten different answers on how something should be done.

        For example on John’s opinion. He said that there is not enough clear span separation between the power poles and the face of curb. Did you look at how large those poles are? Do you have any idea how expensive it would cost to move them? Hundreds of thousands of dollars. Oh sure…just make PSE move them…thats why citys have franchise agreements. But if you think that doesnt cost you anything because you live in a city think again…you pay your power bill that has to account for those capital costs. I believe that it is the Citys responsibility to provide the lowest cost alternative for the public to achieve the goals of the overall project…not just shove costs onto other agencies so their “bottom line” is achieved.

        Bottom line if fraud was committed or policies not followed then there should be consequences. There should be all the facts presented before calling for the CM’s head. Most of the people in this blog have already made up their minds. But in this day and age it is so easy to jump to conclusions without all the facts coming in. As far as Mr. Obriens accustions some have merit and some dont.

  15. ck says:

    Let’s move on! Burien has lots of great things

  16. ck says:

    Joe–I am wondering what kind of engineer you are? Maybe some type engineer that don’t care for quality and standards…

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