Nearly $30 million in planned Butler County road and infrastructure projects this year reflect how construction prices have soared and created a challenge for the county engineer’s office when it came to estimating costs.
All the bids came in around the amounts estimated by Butler County Engineer Greg Wilkens with one exception: a fairgrounds project that was well below the estimate.
Wilkens said his staff increased its estimates by 13.6% to reflect inflation and other post-pandemic pressures like labor and supply shortages.
He told the Journal-News the state has estimated road projects have gone up 20% over the past four years.
“We’ll take our previous year’s contract, we’ll call around see what we think asphalt prices are gong to do, put it all together and make our best guess as to what’s going to come in,” Wilkens said.
By law if all bids come in above 10% of the estimates, they have to be rebid.
The largest contract county commissioners recently approved was $16 million for the annual paving program, Wilkens only received two bids, and the highest was $18.2 million.
Wilkens is responsible for improving and maintaining county-owned roads but also bids and supervises township bridge, culvert and road projects. Those jurisdictions pay for the projects within their territories. Cities and the state handle their own roads.
The commissioners used $5 million in federal COVID money to help townships pave more roads this year. Under the annual paving program, Wilkens’ office resurfaced 43.45 miles of county and township roads last year, compared to 72.87 miles planned this year.
In 2020, the county paid $166,793 per mile for road work. This year it is paying $249,992 per mile, which is nearly a 50% increase.
The paving costs are higher, but because of the commissioners’ contribution — they’ve allocated another $5 million for next year — the county’s largest jurisdiction, West Chester Twp., didn’t have to adjust paving plans, according to Barb Wilson, director of public information and engagement.
“Our roads and TIF funds will not have to shoulder the entire cost due to the county’s investment of these ARPA dollars,” she said.
Another big project will bring more detours to Liberty Twp. now that the commissioners have approved a $4.6 million combination bridge replacement and new roundabout project on Princeton Road at Mauds Hughes. The only other bid came in at $5.2 million.
The estimated 7-month long project will require detours and is slated to begin April 3.
“We just finished Hamilton Mason Road, and Mauds Hughes is an area that connects on the other end of this. I imagine the residents of Liberty Twp. are going to be a little upset over the continued closures,” Wilkens said. “But the funding worked out ... that we got this funding right on the heels of the other one.”
Other large projects that have been awarded are $3.7 million for storm sewer improvements and the Tylersville Road widening ($2.3 million) between Lakota Springs and Lakota Hills drives, which will begin May 1.
Wilkens said there are a number of projects that still must be bid, including the final piece of the massive Liberty Way interchange modification and improvement. It includes additional turn lanes at Liberty Way and Cox Road, with a price tag of $2.8 million.
His total program this year includes 49 projects fixing bridges, culverts, roads and other projects.
One project that came in half of its estimated $1.2 million price tag was work on the roads at the county fairgrounds that were damaged during pandemic vaccination clinics.
County commissioners approved a contract totaling $615,597 last week and, at Commissioner Don Dixon’s urging, the county will pay the full tab, rather than charge the fair board nearly $60,000, because the bids came lower. They allocated federal pandemic relief funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to pay for the project.
Fair board President Doug Turner told the Journal-News he is thrilled the work is being done and they don’t have to pay for any of it.
“We’re very excited and ecstatic that they’re doing it,” Turner said.
Wilkens received six bids for the job. The highest was $1 million from John R. Jurgensen Company, and Roberts Paving won the contract with the low bid. Wilkens said the project is not a conventional job, making estimating more difficult.
“It’s a lot of potential handwork over there,” he said. “Many of our typical road contractors like Jurgensen are not interested in that, so they bid that high.”
The project was necessary because the fairgrounds roads were ripped up during mass pandemic vaccination clinics staged by the Butler County Emergency Management Agency and the health departments. EMA Director Matt Haverkos said not only did more than 50,000 people come by to get shots, but officials had heavy trucks delivering stockpiles of personal protective equipment from the start of pandemic in 2020 through last spring.
“I submitted the original project, and the original project was for all of the lanes traveled,” Haverkos said. “We actually packed cars into the fields as well.”
Wilkens said he was “pleasantly surprised” with the fairground bid.
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