News

Palo Alto hires new rail consultant

AECOM charged with helping city finalize options for grade separation

Palo Alto's newest rail consultant will have a tough, two-fold task on its hands when it makes its public debut Wednesday morning: engage the community on the complex topic of grade separation. And do it fast.

The City Council voted 6-0 on Monday night to approve a $1.3 million contract with the Los Angeles-based firm AECOM, which is now charged with helping the city reach a decision on a preferred alternative for separating the rail corridor from local streets. The council committed in February to reaching a decision on grade separation by the end of this year.

Consultants from the group are scheduled to make their public debut Wednesday morning, when the council's Rail Committee is set to narrow down design options for grade separation from more than 30 to about 16.

Despite the unanimous vote (with Mayor Liz Kniss and Councilman Tom DuBois recusing themselves and Vice Chair Eric Filseth absent), the contract faced intense scrutiny from Councilman Greg Tanaka, who, after grilling staff about the need for additional consulting, ultimately joined his colleagues in supporting the proposal. Others sought assurances that AECOM's history in consulting for Caltrain and the California High-Speed Rail Authority constitutes a conflict of interest.

Herb Borock, a longtime government watchdog, flagged the latter issue in a letter to the council, which referred to AECOM's 2008 contract with the rail authority to work on environmental analysis in the Central Valley portion of the proposed rail line. And in 2017, the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (which operates Caltrain) awarded a $4 million contract to AECOM for planning support for grade-separation projects.

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"AECOM should not be working for the City of Palo Alto on rail issues related to Caltrain and related to CHSRA, because AECOM receives funding from both of these organizations," Borock wrote.

The council considered Borock's case but was ultimately swayed by repeated assurances from City Manager James Keene and City Attorney Molly Stump that the firm will not be conflicted in its work for Palo Alto because there will be a "firewall" between those employees who represent Palo Alto and those who represent the two transportation agencies.

The council was also persuaded by Keene's argument that the city needs additional resources to meet its goals on grade separation. The city has recently severed ties with its prior consultant, the engineering firm Mott MacDonald, and Keene said the city made an effort to find a new firm that has a strong record of public outreach.

Now, Palo Alto is trying to catch up to Mountain View and Sunnyvale, two cities that have their own plans for grade separation and that are vying with Palo Alto for funds from Measure B, a 2016 county measure that allocated $700 million for grade separation.

Assistant City Manager Ed Shikada noted that AECOM has worked with Menlo Park and Burlingame on their respective grade-separation studies, among others.

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"This is a team that's been involved directly with cities along the corridor in exactly the type of work that we're engaged with," Shikada said.

Tanaka questioned the need for another consultant and grilled staff on the differences between the city's agreements with Mott MacDonald (which was under a $1.1 million contract, of which about $400,000 was spent) and with AECOM, as well as other details. He also complained that the staff report didn't clearly lay out the difference between the two contracts, notwithstanding the fact that they have different scopes of services.

"It's very important that we treat our residents' money like our own money," Tanaka said. "If we paid rent on our house, we'd definitely know what our rent was last month."

Others stressed the importance of getting the new consultant on board as soon as possible to avoid further delays.

"I think it's important that we continue to have conversations with the community about the severity of the traffic nightmare we'll face if we don't make some decisions in next few months," said Councilman Cory Wolbach, who chairs the Rail Committee. "It will be a disaster for Palo Alto if we overly delay."

Councilman Adrian Fine, who sits on the Rail Committee agreed.

"The only word I can think of if we don't approve this tonight is 'derailment,'" Fine said, minutes before the vote.

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Palo Alto hires new rail consultant

AECOM charged with helping city finalize options for grade separation

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Tue, Apr 17, 2018, 3:05 pm

Palo Alto's newest rail consultant will have a tough, two-fold task on its hands when it makes its public debut Wednesday morning: engage the community on the complex topic of grade separation. And do it fast.

The City Council voted 6-0 on Monday night to approve a $1.3 million contract with the Los Angeles-based firm AECOM, which is now charged with helping the city reach a decision on a preferred alternative for separating the rail corridor from local streets. The council committed in February to reaching a decision on grade separation by the end of this year.

Consultants from the group are scheduled to make their public debut Wednesday morning, when the council's Rail Committee is set to narrow down design options for grade separation from more than 30 to about 16.

Despite the unanimous vote (with Mayor Liz Kniss and Councilman Tom DuBois recusing themselves and Vice Chair Eric Filseth absent), the contract faced intense scrutiny from Councilman Greg Tanaka, who, after grilling staff about the need for additional consulting, ultimately joined his colleagues in supporting the proposal. Others sought assurances that AECOM's history in consulting for Caltrain and the California High-Speed Rail Authority constitutes a conflict of interest.

Herb Borock, a longtime government watchdog, flagged the latter issue in a letter to the council, which referred to AECOM's 2008 contract with the rail authority to work on environmental analysis in the Central Valley portion of the proposed rail line. And in 2017, the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (which operates Caltrain) awarded a $4 million contract to AECOM for planning support for grade-separation projects.

"AECOM should not be working for the City of Palo Alto on rail issues related to Caltrain and related to CHSRA, because AECOM receives funding from both of these organizations," Borock wrote.

The council considered Borock's case but was ultimately swayed by repeated assurances from City Manager James Keene and City Attorney Molly Stump that the firm will not be conflicted in its work for Palo Alto because there will be a "firewall" between those employees who represent Palo Alto and those who represent the two transportation agencies.

The council was also persuaded by Keene's argument that the city needs additional resources to meet its goals on grade separation. The city has recently severed ties with its prior consultant, the engineering firm Mott MacDonald, and Keene said the city made an effort to find a new firm that has a strong record of public outreach.

Now, Palo Alto is trying to catch up to Mountain View and Sunnyvale, two cities that have their own plans for grade separation and that are vying with Palo Alto for funds from Measure B, a 2016 county measure that allocated $700 million for grade separation.

Assistant City Manager Ed Shikada noted that AECOM has worked with Menlo Park and Burlingame on their respective grade-separation studies, among others.

"This is a team that's been involved directly with cities along the corridor in exactly the type of work that we're engaged with," Shikada said.

Tanaka questioned the need for another consultant and grilled staff on the differences between the city's agreements with Mott MacDonald (which was under a $1.1 million contract, of which about $400,000 was spent) and with AECOM, as well as other details. He also complained that the staff report didn't clearly lay out the difference between the two contracts, notwithstanding the fact that they have different scopes of services.

"It's very important that we treat our residents' money like our own money," Tanaka said. "If we paid rent on our house, we'd definitely know what our rent was last month."

Others stressed the importance of getting the new consultant on board as soon as possible to avoid further delays.

"I think it's important that we continue to have conversations with the community about the severity of the traffic nightmare we'll face if we don't make some decisions in next few months," said Councilman Cory Wolbach, who chairs the Rail Committee. "It will be a disaster for Palo Alto if we overly delay."

Councilman Adrian Fine, who sits on the Rail Committee agreed.

"The only word I can think of if we don't approve this tonight is 'derailment,'" Fine said, minutes before the vote.

Comments

Reality Check
Registered user
another community
on Apr 19, 2018 at 12:00 am
Reality Check, another community
Registered user
on Apr 19, 2018 at 12:00 am
10 people like this

An AECOM cost estimate screw-up featured in an LA Times story today:

High-speed rail project vastly underestimated cost of relocating utility lines beneath Fresno
Web Link

Here's the key story excerpt:

The price of utility relocations along a 29-mile section of railway jumped from a 2013 estimate of $69 million to $396 million, the state rail authority says.

Although it was known that moving gas lines, sewer pipes, water mains and communications wire to make way for the route would be more expensive than originally expected, the magnitude of the increase — nearly a six-fold jump — puts into better focus why the project's costs are rising so sharply.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority board on Friday took up the problem, hearing from its staff that the original estimate contained a number of miscalculations.

The number of linear feet of utilities that have to be moved was underestimated, as was the cost per foot for the job, according to a staff memo. Then, there were utilities that nobody even knew were in the ground. The authority changed its mind about some of the work, as well, the report said.

The original cost estimate was based on work performed by the rail authority's regional consultant, the staff memo said. It did not identify the company, but rail authority records indicate the regional consultant from before 2013 through at least 2015 was Los Angeles-based Aecom. By 2017, the company was no longer on the job. The company did not have an immediate response when contacted.



Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 19, 2018 at 11:50 am
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Apr 19, 2018 at 11:50 am
14 people like this

Good for Tanaka for questioning why we need yet another million dollar plus consultant to play major "project catch-up" due to all the early project delays!

Where was the project oversight from Rail Committee chair Cory Wolbach and Rail Committee member Adrian who are now in such a rush?

With 2 cc members (Kniss and DuBois) recusing themselves and 1 member (Filseth) absent, why the huge rush to push through this contract and where was the project management before? (Shades of the ADU meetings)

Cory's comment suggests the new consultants' role is to scare us with "traffic nightmare" scenarios which means the findings are foregone conclusions. Sounds like the Ross Road fiasco where the city hires a new consultant to decide whether it's "feasible and appropriate" to fix the "traffic nightmares" it's created!

Consultants costs on this single project are nearing $3,000,000 -- ($1,300,000, $,100,000 and $400,000)

Anyone on the CC wondering at the pushback against the infrastructure tax and our confidence in this CC's ability to spend OUR money wisely?


Maurice
Midtown
on Apr 19, 2018 at 1:10 pm
Maurice, Midtown
on Apr 19, 2018 at 1:10 pm
4 people like this

What happened to "Context-Sensitive Solutions" (CSS)? I thought that was supposed to be the be-all and end-all in the grade-separation process. Let amateurs from the community bring all their nutty ideas to the table.

What will this new consultant mean to the mountain of grade-separation ideas the city is currently trying to winnow down?


Donald
Midtown
on Jun 26, 2018 at 2:39 pm
Donald, Midtown
on Jun 26, 2018 at 2:39 pm
5 people like this

Think of the money being spent and the money that needs to be raised to put this transportation idea into place. And the disruption of lives. Is this necessary?


momma
Old Palo Alto
on Jul 13, 2018 at 11:39 pm
momma, Old Palo Alto
on Jul 13, 2018 at 11:39 pm
4 people like this

I regret your decision to Spend over $1 million on a southern California company just so we have somebody else to blame for the very difficult decision we have to make. If we really want to have the train come through Palo Alto it will be very painful but I think it’s necessary for the future. We should be saving money to compensate those who are impacted by a difficult decisions.


Curmudgeon
Downtown North
on Jul 14, 2018 at 9:49 pm
Curmudgeon, Downtown North
on Jul 14, 2018 at 9:49 pm
2 people like this

"What will this new consultant mean to the mountain of grade-separation ideas the city is currently trying to winnow down?"

An excuse to kick the can down the road, safely past the elections.


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