Diamond Drive project faced difficulties

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By Jennifer Garcia

Appearances by Old Man Winter may have been sparse for Los Alamos this winter in terms of snow accumulation, but that hasn’t stopped cold weather from being a problem. Phase two of the Diamond Drive project was completed in December; however, Albuquerque contractor AS Horner is still working on punch list items.

Completion of the roadwork has been delayed because of cold weather and as a result, the contractor has asked the county for an extension so that the work can be completed in warmer weather.

Public Works Director Kyle Zimmerman was in council chambers during last Tuesday night’s meeting and gave a presentation to council on the project. However, Zimmerman’s presentation was cut short. Just as he was beginning to lists the obstacles that the county was faced with during the Phase 2 work, Council Chair Michael Wheeler asked Zimmerman to wrap up his presentation. After a bit of hesitation from Zimmerman, he complied, opening the floor for questions from councilors.

During an interview on Monday, Zimmerman said that Phase 2 was a complicated project with very tight surroundings in which to work. “The contractor was tasked with keeping traffic flowing and keeping utilities on, so there were challenges,” Zimmerman said.

During work on Phase 2, there were a couple of recurring problems that county staff had to address in the name of safety. Zimmerman said that during peak traffic flow times, the contractor would move a piece of equipment from one side of the road to the other, which oftentimes blocked the flow of traffic because of the slow-moving machinery. “We had to work with them to get them to not do those things,” Zimmerman said. “When we talked with them, they’d say, ‘we understand, we see it’s an issue,’ but then they would do it again.” Zimmerman also said that AS Horner workers would open an excavation site without an approved traffic control plan, which also contributed to snarled traffic and frustrated drivers traveling through the construction zone. Another problem that plagued the project was that the contractor’s equipment was too close to cars traveling along that stretch of road, which resulted in some phone calls to Zimmerman and his staff.

Mike Martinez of AS Horner served as the project manager for the Diamond Drive Phase 2 work. He agreed with Zimmerman’s statement regarding the difficulty of the project. “The job was a very difficult job because of the restraints,” Martinez said. “There was not a lot of area to work in. You had to work almost right next to traffic almost the whole time,” he said in regard to the traffic flow problems.

He also said that getting the utility and roadway work done in one season was very tough. “The schedule was a very aggressive schedule, to get it done in one year,” Martinez said. One of the obstacles that Martinez and his staff faced was getting concrete for the project, especially with all the other construction projects going on around town. “We were having to share concrete with them (Hensel Phelps, SG Western),” he commented.

Despite the difficulties with the project, Martinez made clear that the county has been good to work with. “It was a good job, but a hard job,” he said.

Now that work on Phase 2 is wrapping up, the county will take bids from interested contractors. The bidding process is slated to take place today (Tuesday). In an effort to cut down on traffic flow problems during Phase 3, the county has made some modifications to the traffic management specifications in the contract that would impose fees on the contractor, should they close down intersections without an approved traffic control plan in place, first. The fees the contractor faces for such an action will be $1,000 per hour, per land. If the lane is blocked for half an hour, then they contractor will be required to pay $500 for each half hour thereof.

Despite the difficulties they encountered with Phase 2, Martinez said that AS Horner is planning on bidding for the Phase 3 job. “We enjoyed doing work up there, that’s why we’re bidding on Phase 3,” he said. When asked about what he thought about the fees, Martinez said, “I think you have to bid it for what’s in the contract. We’ll have to factor it in. Anytime you put more restrictions on a contractor, the bids will be higher.”

AS Horner was the contractor who also did the work on Diamond Drive Phase 1. The estimated cost of work on Phase 3 is $5 million for the roadway portion, Zimmerman said.