Helper interchange bids exceed estimate
The Helper interchange project became more controversial last Thursday when contractors submitted bids and the lowest proposal registered at $7 million more than the engineer's estimate on the project's costs.
"When the bids are 10 percent or more over the estimate, we pull back the bids and reevaluate our estimates on that project," explained Myron Lee, the Utah Department of Transportations spokesman for Region Four operations. "After that we will make some decisions on how to proceed."
The project surfaced several years ago because of some serious accidents that occurred where Helper's Main Street intersects with U.S. Highway 6. The matter has been a subject of debate and rhetoric.
Originally, U.S. Highway 6 was the town's Main Street. But traffic increases and the inability of city streets to handle the added burden precipitated the construction of the bypass road in the early 1970s, a move which in many aspects that split the community in half and took business from Helper's downtown area.
"One of our goals is to try and stitch Helper back together with this project and we intend to meet that aim," stated Lee.
The bids, submitted by four different companies, were high, even for seasoned UDOT officials.
The engineer's estimate on completing the highway project was $13,141,348.09. But the lowest bid, submitted by Adams and Smith Company, totalled $20,426,609.09.
Three other companies also submitted bids. W.W. Clyde and Company out of Springville submitted the second lowest bid at $21,740,687.65.
The next bid came in at $22,699,664.17 from Ralph L. Wadsworth Construction.
The final bid exceeded the estimate by $11 million plus at $24,528,768.98, coming from Gerber Construction Company.
"What we will do now is to pull the plan back and make sure we did not err on various aspects of planning the project," pointed out Lee. "We need to be sure the plans contractors are bidding on accurately reflect what we want them to do. There may be some things in the plans that are unclear. We just need to try and bring the expenses down."
Once the process is completed, the UDOT representative said the department would also look for other ways of funding any overage that still could result in the bidding.
The review process will take at least 30 to 60 days before a decision is reached, then the project will be bid again.
When asked if the higher cost of the interchange would stop the project from happening the spokesman said it would not, for a number of reasons.
"With U.S. Highway 6, we have easy and hard projects to do," explained Lee. "We could avoid the hard ones and only go after the easy ones, but that's not what we've decided to do. This section of the highway has been one of the most difficult to deal with. It was a narrow corridor to begin with and we have already purchased all the rights of way we need to do the project and have spent a large amount of money to perform the engineering. It is a project that meets the goals of UDOT and of the community."
Opposition to building the interchange has emerged the last couple of years, but it has been largely unorganized, with various individual citizens speaking out against the project. Many of them feel the overpass will actually divide the community even more that it already is. Others are concerned that the cost is too high and that traffic lights could accomplish the safety purposes the overpass is designed to address. Still others feel the project will take more business away from Helper merchants. But UDOT seems undeterred by what they appear to see as a temporary setback.
"Looking for more funds is not an easy thing, but we often have projects that come in under budget, "said Lee. "Some of those kinds of funds could be used to supplement this project."
An example that demonstrates this fact is the ongoing project between Price and Wellington where utility relocation has been going on this past summer and UDOT intends to put in a four-lane highway next year. Bids for the project were opened in late September and a local contractor, Nielson Construction, was awarded the project with a bid of $6,384,132.25. The engineers estimate on the work was $7,314,446.82.
All together there were three bids on that work and the other two were above the estimate with Meadow Valley Contractors submitting a bid for $7,563,899.57 and W.W. Clyde and Company giving UDOT a price of $8,888,363.35.
"The bids are one thing, but as anyone in construction knows the total cost of a project is never known until it is finished," noted Lee.
That's because if contractors run into circumstances beyond their control or changes are made on the project because of factors not known before the bid is submitted, the businesses which do the work can submit change orders to increase payments to them.
The Price-Wellington project is well underway, however, even though no earth work has been done yet.
"We're hoping to be able to still move some dirt this fall if the frost stays out of the ground," explained Lee. "But if that doesn't happen the earth work will begin early next spring with pavement starting to go down either in late spring or early summer."