Airport commissioners rethinking pricey transit center

Bob Hope Airport commissioners tabled a $1.5-million contract to design a new scaled-back transit center on Monday after requesting more information from administrators on project financing and how some of the budget numbers were reached.

Airport officials were forced to go back to the drawing board last month after construction bids came in between $47 million and $69 million above the center’s projected $112-million price tag. The bids surprised officials, who blamed high steel costs and a “fear factor” among contractors that the project could not be built as planned.

The transit center, to be built near Hollywood Way and Empire Avenue, will house rental car, taxi and bus operations and will link the airport to the nearby Metro train station. Officials scaled the project down to bring it within the project’s total $130-million budget, rearranging the plan to reduce engineering and construction costs.

But on Monday, the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority put the brakes on a proposed $1.5-million contract with design firm Pierce, Goodwin, Alexander & Linville, of Houston, to draw up the revised plans after Commissioner Frank Logan, of Pasadena, raised questions about the new cost calculations and said he was concerned the authority is rushing into the project.

Logan asked how some of the revised figures were calculated. For example, the size of the transit center was reduced by 20% to approximately 41,200 sq. ft., but the cost was slashed by more than 95%, from $11.4 million to $233,460.

Airport Executive Director Dan Feger said the transit center was moved from the third floor to ground level, dramatically reducing engineering and construction costs.

Logan also asked why the parking structure doubled in size, but not in cost. The original price was $11.5 million, but in the new concept, the price tag only went up by $1.5 million.

Other design changes include the elimination of the fourth floor of the car rental facility, use of a flat roof instead of a more complex steel-trussed roof, and replacing the lower portion of the parking structure’s steel columns with concrete.

The high cost of heavy steel was the main driver of the higher-than-expected bids, officials said. The revised plans reduce the amount of steel from 16,000 tons to 6,400 tons.

Public parking was eliminated from the ground floor of the planned new facility to make room for the transit center. This change resulted in a larger multi-level parking structure that would double the original capacity from 375 cars to 850.

The net number of parking spaces at the airport will not increase, said airport spokesman Victor Gill, since the parking structure will accommodate spaces lost to construct the rest of the project.

Logan was also concerned that the revised plan relies too heavily on the second phase, which was deferred when the transit center was scaled back.

Since there is no cost projection for the second phase, Logan said it was an “exaggeration” to say the revised plan achieved the airport authority’s goals when so much hinges on that second phase.

The second phase includes extending a moving walkway to Terminal B, improvements to the safety area at Runway 33 and construction of a pedestrian bridge over Empire Avenue from the train station.

The extended walkway may not be as important as he’d once thought, but the safety area, which would be paid for with a federal grant, and the bridge are essential, Logan said.

At the end of the first phase, a traffic signal-controlled walkway would be built across Empire Avenue, “but that’s not very satisfactory,” Logan said. “You need a protected access.”

The airport authority is slated to reconsider the design contract next week. If the design agreement and final revisions are approved, the airport would seek construction bids in November to start construction in April 2012.
 
 

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