MDT ‘surprised’ by $37M bid for Higgins bridge rehab; will reevaluate project

A single bid that came in well above original estimates could postpone the rehabilitation of the Higgins Avenue bridge, the Montana Department of Transportation said Friday.

During this week’s opening, Frontier West submitted the only bid and at $37.7 million, it was well above the $16.6 million MDT had budgeted for the project.

Bob Vosen, the Missoula district administrator with MDT, said he was surprised by the lack of bids and the cost of the only bid received. He believes the aggressive timeline set for the rehab project may have swayed the cost.

“MDT and the city worked together and came up with a really aggressive schedule, just knowing how critical that bridge is to downtown Missoula and all the users it has,” Vosen told the Missoula Current. “It’s an integral part of the transportation system down there.

“We wanted to minimize impacts as much as possible and came up with an aggressive schedule. We knew that was going to increase costs, but I was really caught off guard by the magnitude.”

Vosen said the agency will take a second look at the project and its timeline. It will also contact Frontier West in hopes of learning what swayed its $37 million bid and why the project, now years in the making, didn’t attract more competition.

MDT will submit its findings to the Montana Transportation Commissioner next week. Depending on what the commission decides, it could either delay the project or send it back to the drawing board.

The project was scheduled to begin next month.

“MDT doesn’t award or reject bids, that’s done by the commission,” Vosen said. “We’re still committed to getting that project out the door.”

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.

“We’ve got an agreement in place and we’ll stick to that agreement, at least at this point,” he said. “We’ll have to see what we find out over the next couple weeks. If the commission does chose not to award, them we’ll have to go back out and solicit for bids again and update the schedule.”

Much like the Russell Street bridge, the project is intended to rehabilitate the deterioration that’s taken place over more than 50 years. That includes replacing the bridge deck and repairing the steel superstructure and concrete supports. The median will also be eliminated.

Beyond needed repairs, the bridge will be widened to create more space for pedestrians and bicycles, increasing the 4-foot-wide sidewalk to 13 feet on both sides

Katie Klietz with Big Sky Public Relations said the potential delay won’t put the project’s future in jeopardy.

“The Higgins Avenue bridge continues to be structurally sound and a potential delay in the construction schedule poses no risk to the traveling public,” she said in a morning statement. “MDT understands that this project is very important to our community and is dedicated to developing the best solution for all involved.”