AZTEC — At the last City Commission meeting, a spending increase for the city's pedestrian bridge project was not approved because representatives from the construction company did not show up.

Tuesday's meeting was a different story.

In a unanimous vote, commissioners approved spending an additional $22,000 for a change order to cover 12 feet of extra drill shaft materials and 30 feet of railing for the three-span bridge. The 110,000-pound bridge will connect to walking trails from downtown Aztec and from the Aztec Ruins National Monument on either side of the Animas River, just upstream of the Hampton Arroyo.

The Aztec City Commission on Tuesday approved an additional 22,000 for the city’s pedestrian bridge. The bridge, pictured here on Tuesday, is
The Aztec City Commission on Tuesday approved an additional 22,000 for the city's pedestrian bridge. The bridge, pictured here on Tuesday, is expected to cost a total of 1.5 million. (James Fenton — The Daily Times)

Gary Huffman, project manager for RMCI, Inc., the Albuquerque construction company in charge of erecting the bridge, appeared before commissioners this time to explain the change order and take questions.

Huffman was asked by Mayor Pro Tem Sherri Sipe over the change in drilling depths for the bridge's two piers and two abutments.

"Why wasn't (the drilling depth) included the first time around with the bid?" Sipe asked.

Huffman said the drilling of test holes during the design phase were approximate measurements of bedrock depth to anchor the bridge supports on either side of the river. Because of concerns over archeological and cultural artifacts on the Aztec Ruins side of the river, he explained, those test holes were close to — but not precisely located — where the actual drilling occurred during construction last month.

"Each individual bridge area is going to be different," Huffman said. "When they drill the test holes, they'll tell you how deep the bedrock is in that location, but if you move 10 feet you get a different (measurement). It is so variable, and each individual hole is going to be different. Any civil construction is based on unforeseen conditions — and you can't see in the ground."

Aztec City Commission on Tuesday approved 22,000 for a change order on the city’s pedestrian bridge, pictured here on Tuesday.
Aztec City Commission on Tuesday approved 22,000 for a change order on the city's pedestrian bridge, pictured here on Tuesday. (James Fenton — The Daily Times)

Huffman also said the change order was necessary because his firm was charging the city a per-unit price on drilling depths, instead of an estimated — and often inflated — number of feet the drill shafts would be.

"It benefits you to do the unit price," Huffman said. "You're only paying for what you receive. As a contractor, everybody thinks we get rich off of change orders, but I'd rather never have them. Change orders take a lot of time and make people angry."

"We do, too," quipped Mayor Sally Burbridge.

Concerns over half of the added cost were over cold steel railing for the bends in the bridge. Huffman said the city requested the different railing, and, during the original bidding, four different bids for those materials defaulted to a generic material that served as a "placeholder."

"It was handled poorly at the corners, but, luckily, we have a change," City Manager Josh Ray said. "This is the fix to make it right."

Huffman added because of high water levels in the Animas River caused by snowmelt from Colorado, work on the bridge's foundations may have to be suspended, which would add both a delay and further costs to the project.

"We have some high water levels right now. What I'm afraid of is that (the soil around the bridge's piers and abutments) will start eroding, and we'll have a different river channel. It's also about safety," Huffman said. "We're looking at not a real suspension, but the option of suspending. We don't want to suspend anything. We'd really like to finish up. The work is going to happen. You've paid for that."

If a suspension is needed, it would cost roughly $6,000 for moving costs for construction equipment, Huffman said.

Today, crews will pour concrete along the bridge's 215-foot center span and begin cleanup. A decision on whether to suspend the work will likely be made in a week's time, Huffman said.

The commission has previously approved about $600,000 in city money for the $1.5 million bridge project. The bridge construction is also funded by a $900,000 grant from the state transportation department.

James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 and Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.