Trolleys on another delay

ALPENA Delivery of four long-awaited hybrid trolley buses will be delayed one more month, members of the Thunder Bay Transportation Authority learned during their board meeting Monday.

As they tangled with the groundwork of building a new transportation center, the news generated a few laughs during their 2 1/2 hour meeting.

“Our status update is the first two probably won’t be delivered until June 15,” Prell Services General Manager Billi Edmonds said.

The authority applied for $750,000 in grant money in June 2009 to buy the trolleys. However, delays, including a federal government shut down, have hexed the project and the city’s efforts to set up fixed bus routes.

Edmonds said one of the reasons for the stop-and-go progress is cash flow. Building the batteries is costly and the company manufacturing them needs money up front. However, the Michigan Department of Transportation, which must oversee all spending, is slow to pay out reimbursements, so the battery maker moves on to other projects that have been paid for, she said.

An additional delay is being sought by the manufacturer so the buses can be tested by the builder for 30 days before the transit authority puts them into service.

As a result, the trolley buses won’t be a part of the July 4 parade.

“We’ve got to have at least one in that parade,” Sundin joked. “If we have to put it on a flatbed, OK. Or have them drive it in the parade.”

The light moment broke up hours the board spent working out the details preparing for a new $7.5 million transit facility at the north end of the city. The board requested qualifications from architectural and engineering firms, and has received approximately 15 proposals so far.

The deadline for submittals is Thursday, Edmonds said. Board members will then review the proposals, rate them, and by May 15, begin interviewing short-listed firms. The final selection will be made by May 30.

On Monday, Sundin suggested the authority may want to add a construction manager to the team.

Although the project is budgeted at about $7 million in the form of special federal grants, there is no room for error or cost overruns, board members said.

“We’ve got the dollars to do a good job, but all I’m concerned about quality,” said board member Tony Suszek, who represents the school district.

Board member Dan Daoust said a contractor might cut corners if there is a guaranteed maximum price and then something goes wrong. He said the contractor might make the cuts if they have to cover the cost.

The board also wanted someone on site daily, so they authorized Edmonds to seek qualifications from construction managers and get a person on board before the design process begins.

The manager must be versed in getting competitive bids for details, such as flooring and siding. The same person must handle payroll, interact with the authority, the architect and the contractor, and manage requirements of the federal Davis-Bacon act, which states that local prevailing wages must be paid for public works projects.

At the same time, the board hopes to begin interviewing candidates for the TBTA executive director’s position.

So far, two people have applied for the job, which was posted April 15, Edmonds said. The deadline for applications is May 15, with interviews to be conducted at the end of May.

Sundin said if the authority doesn’t get enough qualified applicants, the board could extend the deadline.

The position is being advertised on the board’s website as well as transportation and industry websites state and nationwide.

Edmonds also updated the board on the development of fixed routes for the hybrid trolleys, with the Farmer’s Market now being considered as the transfer site for two separate loops.

No stops have been designated yet, but natural stops, such as stop signs and traffic lights, have been indicated on the working map.

“We’re trying to avoid downtown stopping anywhere in a high-traffic area,” Edmonds said.

As an alternative, the route could follow along River Street, lined with apartments, the Senior Center, the Boys & Girls Club and other amenities. Lockwood Street also could be used as part of the loop west of Chisholm Street.

The route also must designate where the buses will operate on electricity power, and where they will run on diesel to recharge batteries, she said.

The map is a work in progress, and there are hundreds of other details to be ironed out before the routes are up and running.

Edmonds said the authority has to determine fares that will be charged, but those prices must be easy to divide in half for seniors, the disabled and students, who get discounts.

Then the authority will have to decide what kind of fare boxes the trolleys will carry, the kinds of fare cards that will be used, and the hardware and software programming to collect the money.

Adding to the pressure is that the board’s next monthly meeting will be held a week early at 2:30 p.m. May 19, because of the Memorial Day holiday.

Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at blehndorff@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.