Butler County Engineer Greg Wilkens expected road project bids to be “scary” this construction season. Now that they are, some entities are considering paring down paving projects.
Wilkens’ office manages road projects for county and township roads, but the jurisdictions pay for the projects. When he issued his $54 million capital plan earlier this year, he said he expected high bids due to pandemic-induced labor and supply chain issues and the gasoline crisis.
The paving estimate townships received in December was $4.4 million, but the low bid received a couple weeks ago is $5.2 million. There were 10 townships planning to repave almost 22.3 miles of roadway. Wilkens said several townships are considering revising their paving program this year.
He said some of the townships are “struggling” and holding special meetings because they were basing their budgets on estimates Wilkens gave them in December, but the price for paving is 20% higher. Bids for black mat and chip seal aren’t in yet. He said some are considering using American Rescue Plan Act funds to close the shortfall.
“They have some ARPA money which I think has helped them,” Wilkens said. “So I think they may be able to fill the gap with that, some of them are, so I think the majority are just trying to refocus their budget and complete what they wanted to get done.”
The paving contract for Fairfield Twp. is $427,112, and Administrator Julie Vonderhaar said it is about $88,000 over budget. The township plans to stick with the original paving plan but might skip black mat projects that are estimated at $90,000 and expected to come in 20% higher.
Ross Twp. Administrator Laurie Kile said the trustees still must approve, but they are recommending moving ahead with the $340,895 paving projects that include four roads.
“We’re probably going to remain status quo and go ahead with what we had planned because we don’t know what the prices will do in the future,” Kile said.
West Chester Twp. will stay on course spending about $1.7 million on asphalt, which is $326,629 over the December estimate.
“The condition of the roads is the leading indicator of the health of the community,” Trustee Mark Welch said. “In West Chester, I think we’re doing great, we’re fortunate, we are blessed and roads is one of our core competencies and we just want to do it.”
Paving projects in the city of Oxford came in even higher at 32% over last year, according to Michael Dreisbach, director of public services. He said the city is spending $435,000 on resurfacing and another $350,000 for the reconstruction of part of Main Street.
“We expected higher pricing given the price of asphalt products and transportation skyrocketing,” Dreisbach said. “But we did not expect an increase of 32%.”
Fairfield’s $2.67 million repaving program is 25% higher than last year to resurface nearly 24 lane miles this summer. Public Works Director Ben Mann said the city luckily received a $785,000 Ohio Public Works Commission grant, so it will keep the 2022 road program intact.
“Maintaining the streets at a high level continues to be a priority for our city council,” Mann said. “We think that the cost of falling behind in routine maintenance is greater than the increased costs we are seeing this year.”
Aside from the annual repaving projects — the two bids under consideration for both county and township roads are $9.14 million and $10.7 million — bids for almost all of seven other major road projects were higher too.
Given the current gas crisis Wilkens said he had to adjust his estimates before going out to bid because if prices come in more than 10% over the estimate it has to be rebid. He said the gas prices impacts every aspect of the construction business.
“The cost of fuel is causing a lot of it, I know it’s in the construction industry because fuel is the source throughout, not just in asphalt but everything we do,” Wilkens said. “All that machinery runs on fuel, that’s part of it, getting materials is another part that’s become a problem.”
He said “we’re already playing the games” with the supply issue at times having to re-engineer projects, utilizing different materials, to make them work, “that’s all the behind the scene stuff nobody know about as the complain about delays in construction.”
The commissioners are set to award a contract for the Veterans Boulevard extension that is part of the massive $24 million Liberty Way and Ohio 129 interchange reconfiguration. The early estimate was $6.1 million, Wilkens hiked it to nearly $6.3 million. The bids ranged from $5.5 million to $4.9 million.
“They got aggressive, they wanted that contract I think,” Wilkens said about the low bids.
Hamilton Director of Engineering Rich Engle said they have $1.87 million worth of projects in the works so far this year and the one they bid in February was only about $100,000 higher than the estimate, “bidding early in the year was beneficial in the pricing.”
Wilkens said they should know in a couple weeks if they need to adjust the paving contracts.