Higgins Bridge rehab delayed after Transportation Commission rejects $37M bid

The Montana Department of Transportation last week opened bids for the rehabilitation of the Higgins Avenue bridge, which had an estimated budget of roughly $16.6 million. But only one bid was received, and it came it at $37.7 million. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file photo)

Citing unexpectedly high costs, the Montana Transportation Commission voted not to award the rehabilitation of the Higgins Avenue bridge to the project’s only bidder at its meeting Friday morning.

As a result, the project – now years in the making – will not begin next month as planned.

“High cost and the ability to adjust the contract to secure lower bids were cited as the main reasons the commission did not vote to award the project,” said Katie Klietz with Big Sky Public Relations. “Higgins Avenue bridge construction will not begin in January 2020.”

The Montana Department of Transportation last week opened bids for the project, which had an estimated budget of roughly $16.6 million. But only one bid was received, and it came it at $37.7 million.

The disparity in price surprised transportation officials.

“We wanted to minimize impacts as much as possible and came up with an aggressive schedule,” Bob Vosen, the Missoula district administrator, told the Missoula Current last week. “We knew that was going to increase costs, but I was really caught off guard by the magnitude.”

The project looks to rehabilitate the deterioration that’s taken place over the structure’s 55 years of service. That includes replacing the deck and repairing the superstructure and concrete supports.

Beyond the essential repairs, plans also sought to widen the deck to create more space for pedestrians and bicyclists. It would have increased the sidewalks from 4 feet to 13 feet on both sides.

MDT has said the bridge remains structurally sound. Klietz said funding earmarked for the project will stay with the project.

“Essentially what will happen now is a meeting among MDT, and potentially local contractors, to discuss what would make a strong updated schedule or bid package,” said Klietz. “MDT will then develop a new schedule and will advertise that updated package as soon as possible.”

Klietz said MDT hopes to have that new package ready for review in January. She said the scope of the project would remain the same.

“The goal is to start construction as soon as possible and as soon as would be feasible for contractors,” Klietz said. “That could be later this summer or in 2021.”

The city of Missoula and MDT entered into an agreement in July guiding the rehabilitation of the 55 year-old bridge. Under the agreement, the city’s share stood at $1.7 million.

While Vosen expects that agreement to stand, he said additional details would emerge in the coming weeks.