Out of Funding, Caltrans Wants a Metro Loan to Finish Burbank Bridge, I-5 Improvements

The Burbank Bridge was dismantled in April of 2020 (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

If Jules Kimmett or Mike Nolan were still around, they would call it a boondoggle.

It seems that Caltrans has run out of funding to complete the current segment of the I-5 improvements which include the Burbank Bridge and is asking the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) for a loan of approximately $73 million to complete the behind-schedule project.

Tony Tavares, who has been at the helm of Caltrans District 7 for just two months, met with the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors Construction Committee this past week with hat in hand trying to muster a loan from Metro to finish the current Segment 3 of the construction.

The Burbank Bridge has been closed to traffic for over a year (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

According to Burbank Vice Mayor Jess Talamantes who remembered the 2012 start of the construction is on the Metro Transportation Committee as well as the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) says that when the bid went out for the project, Security Paving had the lowest bid by far and far below the amount that Caltrans had budgeted for the project.

With a contract in place, Metro then took the extra funding and used it in different projects. Once the construction began, there were additional problems that had not been discovered before ‘due to the delays resulting from relocation of utilities and other work not accounted for in design, different site conditions, hazardous material encountered, additional work requested by the corridor communities, and design changes.’ according to a staff report. In other words, the bid was so low because these factors were not added in as other bids had.

David Kriske, Assistant Community Development Director for the City of Burbank said, “We’ve asked Metro/Caltrans to address several project “un-met” needs where the construction of the project has damaged adjacent city infrastructure, created unsightly conditions along the railroad right of way, or requires additional project enhancements to address safety or reduce long-term city maintenance costs.  Our rough estimate of these un-met needs is about $15 million.

Caltrans projection of what the new area will look like upon completion

We believe that Caltrans/Metro needs to finish cleaning the railroad right of way along San Fernando, Little San Fernando, and Victory Place.  We’d also like them to landscape the remaining railroad right of way, which was not included in the original project budget but that we feel is necessary to address the unsightly conditions.  This cleaning and landscaping is included in our $15 million un-met needs request.”

So why was the bid process rushed through without checks and balances along with the input of the affected parties in advance? Talamantes said that there was a funding grant that was time-sensitive and if not used quickly would have been lost.

During the virtual meeting last week, Supervisor Janice Hahn said that this project was full of “Mismanagement and major design flaws by Caltrans” and that Caltrans in the past would not take any more money from Metro for it during a meeting this past September.

Hahn was adamant that Caltrans had said in the past that they would not need any more funding and that there was no guarantee that the loan would ever be paid back with an audit of the project taking up to 10 years to complete.

Bridge Press conference back in 2020 announcing the project (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

According to Kriske, Metro has already stepped up to help Burbank, “Metro gave us additional funds to landscape along Leland Way where they widened the freeway and built a larger soundwall (this was just completed), and also provided funding for the landscaping on the west side of Empire Avenue that we just finished.  Using these Metro funds the City still plans to landscape the remaining dirt area in front of the Empire Center and the new median along the northbound Empire Avenue onramp next to Landis/Keeler/Rogers streets.  These remaining areas are not done because we’re waiting for Caltrans to complete some final improvements and coordinate with Empire Center before we install our landscaping.”

Tavares says the project is now 85% complete but the additional $73 million is needed immediately and if Metro does not lend them the money the project may be put on hold until funding is available which could possibly be years. The contractor had already done the work and wanted money before April 1 to continue working. Hahn did not like being held ‘hostage’ with the threat of the contractor walking off the job on April 1.

Caltrans had ‘promised’ Burbank that the new Burbank Bridge construction 14 to 18 months to be dismantled and replaced by a new bridge. The bridge was closed on March 27 of 2020 and 18 months will make the date September 2021. Kriske said that Caltrans hopes to have the new bridge open to traffic by August of 2021, which is 15 months. Talamantes knows the urgency of the bridge being finished, “Our residents and businesses have taken the burden of this project – we need that bridge.” Talamantes also said that State Senator Anthony Portantino has been working hard for Burbank up in Sacramento with Caltrans officials to address Burbank’s needs and problems.

The project as it was proposed in 2011

Supervisor Kathryn Barger, 5th District Supervisor which includes Burbank has seen improvement recently, “I have voiced my serious frustration about issues that arose from the project design and contract implementation, and there is enough blame to go around. Through it all, the City of Burbank and its residents have been significantly impacted by the myriad cost overruns and project delays. But I want to stress that I have seen a big improvement in the oversight and leadership from Caltrans on this project, and an improvement in the relationship between Caltrans, Metro, the contractor, and the City over the past year plus.

I believe Caltrans is committed to getting the remainder of this project done right. Last year, we were able to partner to identify additional funding and expedite completion of the Burbank Blvd. offramp, expediting freeway pavement, and finishing a checklist of projects before the demolition of Burbank Bridge. So, I believe things will continue to move in the right direction and my hope is that lessons learned will be applied throughout the region and state.”

Burbank Councilmember Sharon Springer who has also been involved said, “Completion will facilitate Burbank moving forward with our San Fernando bikeway project that will further connect the regional and Burbank bike network from northern locations to the Downtown Burbank Metrolink Station.   These items are needed to properly complete the project and include something for everybody:  motor vehicle users, train commuters, and cyclists.   Burbank residents are weary of waiting and respectfully request funding for completion.   Moving forward, we look forward to the I-5 moving 100% electric vehicles fueled by renewable energy and the end of freeway widening as a traffic mitigant.”

Barger understands Burbank position and will make sure that corners are not cut by Caltrans before the project is finished. “I understand that the City of Burbank has submitted an unmet needs list to Caltrans over issues related to the construction project, and those are things that need to be addressed before we can say this project is complete. I do believe that we are all committed to making Burbank whole after all these years of impacts.

I think Caltrans is committed, as evidenced by their request that Burbank’s $15.3 million estimated cost for this work be included in the amount needed to complete the project, and we at the Metro Board have ensured that amount is included in this month’s Metro board action. At this point, it’s imperative that the partner agencies begin working with the city as soon as possible to develop the projects needed to address construction related impacts to the city.”

At the urging of Hahn, the committee has recommended that the funding be brought up as an agenda item at a future Metro Board of Directors meeting, although both she and Barger, who also sits on the committee and represents Burbank, were both very negative on Metro providing the funding.

While there has been delay after delay, Caltrans is now rushing to acquire the funding, too bad they have not put the same effort into this project that has been a huge headache for Burbank for the past decade.

Editors Note: The first story had it listed that the Board of Supervisors would have this on their agenda, it is actually the Metro Board of Directors who will hear this.

It was also reported the bridge was closed in January of 2020 but the actual date of closure was March 27, 2020 – the story has been updated.