MOORESVILLE – Due to regional price increases for large-scale transportation projects, a number of town road improvements are moving more slowly than many would like.
Among those are town board members, several of whom asked Engineering Services Director Jonathan Young at their Nov. 5 meeting why there was not further progress on some major road projects.
Getting the bids
The town is currently working on four road projects that involve federal funding – the intersections of N.C. 115 at N.C. 150, N.C. 115 at Faith Road and N.C. 150 and N.C. 801 as well as the Mooresville School Network project.
And, Young said, as soon as the Town of Mooresville receives $1 in federal or state money for a project, the North Carolina Department of Transportation has “full control” to approve or deny any bid requests for that project.
“So when you’ve got federal or state funds involved, we do have to seek permission from NCDOT to reject or accept any bids,” Young said.
So far, getting enough qualifying bids has been tricky. The N.C. 115 at N.C. 150 intersection is the only one that’s had a bid approved, and it took three tries.
Before bids can be solicited from contractors, NCDOT requires towns get a cost estimate. NCDOT usually does not allow bids to be accepted that are above 10 percent of that estimate.
“NCDOT has recently been allowing a little bit more, roughly 20 percent,” Young said. “But typically nothing more than that.”
Young said the town has had to do “a lot of bidding and rebidding” on these projects because either not enough contractors have made bids or the bids have come in too high.
One such bid was made for the N.C. 115 at Faith Road improvement. When the project was put out to bid a second time Oct. 25, the cost estimate for the project was $1,102,782. The lowest bid received was $2,031,684.20.
“That’s kind of what we’re seeing across the board,” Young said.
Why costs are high
Young said some “common themes” for why prices are increasing include higher construction costs and stronger competition for qualified contractors.
“What we’re seeing is that these projects are small enough that they’re not fitting into the wheelhouse of a lot of the projects that are going on around us,” Young said. “Because NCDOT has a lot of projects, and these $1 million to $2 million projects are just very difficult for these contractors to come in and do when they are actually working on $10 million to $20 million-plus contracts.”
And for every bid that is rejected by NCDOT, more time is spent trying to revise plans or realign cost estimates, even as construction costs continue to rise.
“We are not the only ones experiencing this,” Young said. “Actually, Allison (Kraft) has reached out to the City of Charlotte. And, as you can imagine, they have a lot more projects than we do. And they are struggling with the same issue.”
When Young concluded his presentation, Commissioner Bobby Compton asked if these challenges would also leak over to projects that are not federally funded, like West McLelland.
Young said yes – “I’m guessing it’s going to be caught up in that same thing.”
Commissioner Lisa Qualls asked if the town was setting unrealistic cost estimates, since they continue to be lower than the bids coming in.
Young said the town actually works with a consulting agency that sets estimates based solely on the average bid NCDOT sees across North Carolina.
“So they don’t set those,” Young said of the consulting agency. “They don’t come up with them out of their head.”
But the average cost in the state might not be as high as the average cost in Mooresville – and that’s where consultants might be running into trouble, Young said.
The higher costs in Mooresville could be due, in part, to fewer qualified contractors in the area.
“NCDOT has so many projects right now, and a lot of these transportation-related projects are required to have a contractor that does a certain thing as a part of that,” Young said. “They’ve got to be pretty qualified to do DOT. So you may not necessarily have the same contractor working on your sidewalk project as you would a transportation project.”
Young is currently in talks with NCDOT about the N.C. 115 at Faith Road project and, on the day after the commissioners meeting, said that “the goal is to get these projects awarded in some form or fashion.”