Eye On Boise

Low bids on highway projects are saving millions for Idaho

Idaho is saving tens of millions because construction bids on its big federal stimulus-funded highway projects - including the Dover Bridge in North Idaho and the Vista Interchange in Boise - are coming in so far under budget. The result: Instead of just the eight big projects around the state that are planned, Idaho should be able to add to its list, and a North Idaho bottleneck on U.S. Highway 95 could benefit. "They are very competitive bids, extremely competitive," said Jeff Stratten, spokesman for the Idaho Transportation Department. "Contractors are eager and hungry to go to work, and their bids are reflecting it." Said ITD board member Jim Coleman, "We're getting five or six bids in places that we would get one or two before."

The low bid for the Dover Bridge replacement project alone came in $15.2 million below the original budget estimate. The Vista Interchange on I-84 came in a whopping $21.2 million below the estimate. So far, five of the eight stimulus-funded projects have gone to bid, and the apparent low bids total $40.9 million less than the original estimates; there are still three more projects to go to bid in the next few weeks. Dozens of highway projects around the state could vie for a share of the savings - including the two-mile gap that's been left unfunded at the south end of the Garwood-to-Sagle freeway project on U.S. Highway 95 in North Idaho. That long-planned four-lane highway will end two miles shy of the existing four-lane highway at Hayden, creating a potential two-lane, two-mile bottleneck.

"Believe me, when somebody finds out we have some money that hasn't been allocated, there will be projects that people will want," said Darrell Manning, chairman of the Idaho Transportation Board. "They're all good projects, they're all needed projects." When the board first looked at candidates for stimulus funding, he said, "We had $800 million worth of projects." After all eight stimulus projects have gone to bid, the ITD staff will develop a recommendation on candidates for the leftover money, and the transportation board will begin discussing which ones to pick as soon as July.

Several factors led to the lower bids, including a drop in prices for commodities like oil, asphalt and steel worldwide since the budget estimates first were developed, and pent-up demand for work among contractors in the region due to the tough economy. For the Dover Bridge replacement, ITD received five bids, all from contractors in the region. The lowest was $21.6 million from Sletten Construction of Great Falls, Mont.; the highest was $23.6 million from another Great Falls firm. All five were far below the $36.8 million budget. For the Vista Interchange, ITD received six bids, with the lowest, $17.8 million, from Central Paving Co. of Boise. The highest was $21.2 million from Idaho Sand and Gravel of Nampa; all six were far below the budget of $39 million. You can read my full story here in today's Spokesman-Review.

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Eye On Boise

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