Atascadero city manager explains error on cost of roundabouts

A rendering shows three proposed roundabouts on Del Rio Road in Atascadero.
A rendering shows three proposed roundabouts on Del Rio Road in Atascadero.

Atascadero’s city manager says she incorrectly paraphrased an engineer’s explanation when preparing a staff report for city leaders last month that described why interchange improvements related to constructing two shopping centers in town could now cost three times more than originally thought.

“I apologize for any misunderstanding,” Atascadero City Manager Rachelle Rickard told The Tribune.

The issue was brought up when Councilman Bob Kelley said information presented to the City Council last month conflicted with information staff presented two years ago when the council unanimously approved the construction of a Wal-Mart and an adjacent shopping center called The Annex.

Key to those early discussions in 2012 was how the city and each developer would fund an estimated $4.5 million for two roundabouts at the Del Rio Road interchange with Highway 101, which all parties share a cost in.

In a Sept. 23 staff report, when the council received an update that the roundabouts are now estimated at about $12 million, Rickard wrote that the original price tag didn’t include design or permitting costs — two things city staff specifically said were included before.

Kelley said he pointed out the discrepancy at the public meeting on Sept. 23 but didn’t receive feedback on it.

Rickard later told The Tribune that she goofed when trying to paraphrase an explanation she received from a consulting firm’s engineer on why the roundabouts would cost more today.

“(The engineer) gave a very engineering type of response to the soft costs that I tried to simplify for the staff report,” Rickard said. “While we do try to proofread and check our staff reports, it was a very long staff report and apparently we missed the oversimplification.”

The contradiction between the two staff reports is apparent when comparing them. Here’s a look at what each document said:

  • June 26, 2012, staff report: “The $4,500,000 cost estimate of the two freeway ramp head roundabouts includes the cost of design, permitting, right-of-way, construction, traffic control and landscaping.”
  • Sept. 23, 2014, staff report: “Original estimates provided by EDA and others did not include costs for design, inspection, environmental document preparation, permitting, materials testing and other ‘soft’ costs.”
  • “This is still a simplistic answer, but it is my understanding that the original estimate did include some design costs but did not account for some of the Caltrans-specific processes such as conceptual design and Caltrans reimbursement for their oversight involvement, design refinement/environmental documents, construction management and inspection,” Rickard said. “It is also my understanding that the Caltrans processes are continuously updated and changed from the time the estimate was prepared to the current process.”

    While Rickard didn't correct the staff report after the fact, she read a statement at the City Council's Oct. 14 meeting recapping the history of the project and outlining the city's application to Caltrans for the proposed interchange improvements. The statement also clarified why some of the costs are higher now.

    The city is currently working with Caltrans on gaining the state agency’s approval for the roundabouts, a process Rickard previously said could take two more years.

    Going forward, Wal-Mart can build its store and two commercial tenant spaces before the interchange improvements are required. Wal-Mart does, however, have to build its own roundabout at El Camino Real and Del Rio Road and two traffic lights in addition to completing other roadwork before its center can open.

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