In June, the Pima County Department of Transportation estimated the cost to rebuild La Cañada Drive from Ina to Calle Concordia at somewhere between $22.6 million and $24.5 million.
Last week, 11 contractors bid on the four-lane, 3.07-mile project. The low bid, from KE&G Construction, Inc., of Tucson, came in at $13.199 million, 40 percent lower than the earlier estimate.
If the contract is finalized, KE&G will rebuild the La Cañada thoroughfare between Ina Road and Calle Concordia in unincorporated Pima County. "The exact project scope has not changed in any way, shape or form," said Rick Ellis, engineering division manager for the Pima County DOT.
The KE&G bid was lower than others by more than $1.5 million. It was "substantially less than the others," said George Widugiris, procurement director for Pima County. The procurement office "asked ourselves the same question" about the bid, "because it came in so low. Our analysis just reflects there are a number of line items that came in lower."
A recommendation for "notice of award" was made by the procurement office late Monday afternoon. Ellis said the notice of award would likely be presented to the Pima County Supervisors at their Oct. 13 meeting.
Document preparation and contract finalization typically takes up to two months. If paperwork progresses, Ellis said work on La Cañada could begin in late November or early December, with crews "hard at it after the new year."
There were 11 total bidders, with eight of them clustered between $17.35 million and $18.69 million. Ellis learned much from the results.
"It's not always an easily predictable market," Ellis said. But it is a bustling market, with "a high number of interested bidders.
"It's a good sign you've got a good project," he said. "The market is good. That's encouraging to me, compared to if you only get two or three. With this range, I know we have some real quality contractors out there. To me, that's as critical as anything else, as much as the prices."
The county is continually evaluating its project estimates, based upon the data derived from roadways that go to bid. There had been relatively little bidding activity in the last few years. Original price estimates were derived from projects bid in 2006 and 2007, before the market changed.
Road projects like this year's Twin Peaks interchange in Marana provided a new set of "data points, numbers and values. We started seeing some of the price trends go down a little bit," Ellis said. "As we've been getting more projects out, we're getting a better handle on prices, and more of a trend we feel comfortable adjusting to.
"We even adjusted on the fly," Ellis said. "It's very hard to crystal ball that with any degree of accuracy sometimes."
Given the bids, Ellis expects the La Cañada Magee Neighborhood Association, which has urged more mitigation for noise and visual impacts along La Cañada, to make "a request at some point in time" for more walls and other abatement.
"Our premise has always been, regardless of whether we are overbudgeted or under, we are still driven to meet the needs and address the deficiencies" on Pima County roads, Ellis said. "Quality of life wants, extras, we do not have the ability to address, because we still have to manage an overall road program."
To deem money as "extra" from one project, and not have "extra" money for mitigation on another project, "is misleading to the public, and that's not fair," Ellis said. The department wants to be "consistent" and "honorable" on the work it does.
Ellis adds that the Pima Association of Governments regional council has said any funds left from one road project "have to go back and be considered for application to other projects.
"It's the same mentality, to stretch dollars as far as possible to assure delivery of the overall program," Ellis said. "I recognize that's not always accepted. Most seem to accept that more product for the dollars is more important than adding the niceties. Most people tend to agreed with that."
There are "a lot of big projects out there," among them reconstruction of La Cholla and Magee in the Northwest. "We have miles and miles of roads and corridor projects … with similar neighborhood situations. The region does recognize there's a shortage of monies out there. We need opportunities to stretch dollars as far as possible."
"It's a much better position to be in" than insufficient funds to build a project, Ellis observed. "I've been on the other side. It's nice to have more choices at your disposal.
"The public has been incredibly patient," Ellis said. "They're going to reap the benefits by getting more product out the door, and that feels good all the way around."