Butler County Commissioner Don Dixon talks about the county's fiscal health

Costs keep rising for major I-75, Union Center Blvd. interchange project

The Butler County Engineer’s Office opened three bids Tuesday:

• John R. Jurgensen: $19.99 million

• Sunesis Coast: $21.68 million

• Barrett Paving: $22.2 million

RELATED: Unexpectedly high costs are changing two major Butler County road projects

County Engineer Greg Wilkens first increased the estimate on the diverging diamond interchange from $14 million to $17 million because of the “scary” bidding process his office is experiencing this year. He told the Journal-News he revised it again, upping it to $18.5 million, before the bids were sought. He said they haven’t thoroughly examined the bids yet, but if Jurgensen’s holds true, he’ll take it.

“It’s about 7.7 percent over and if it ends up that, we’ll make a recommendation to accept it,” he said. “We’re not convinced in this job we’ll get a better price.”

Wilkens would have been required to reject the bids had they come in 10 percent over the estimates. That would have been the case if the estimate stayed at $17 million.

“We revised that going in because we didn’t want to be in that position,” he said.

Wilkens said once the county commissioners award the contract, work will begin in six to eight weeks.

The township authorized issuing $14 million in tax increment financing (TIF)-backed bonds in February, but officials said they could pay cash if the bids were higher. Trustee Ann Becker wasn’t happy with the bigger bill but said the UCB interchange upgrade is crucial for the township.

“When we look at these big infrastructure projects, we know that they are expensive, but we want to make sure we get the best work done for the township,” she said. “And particularly at Union Centre to make sure our economic development is moving forward.”

The Union Centre Boulevard interchange will be restructured with a diverging diamond interchange, or DDI, that will create a “free flowing” pattern with fewer left turns and traffic signals, according to officials.

Trustee Board President Mark Welch could not be reached for comment but told the Journal-News previously a bid would have to go as high as “$25 million to $30 million” before the township would cancel the project.

“I would say before the divergent diamond would be a no-go, because it is such an important part of the central business district down there, that’s going to have to increase substantially,” Welch said. “Things would have to really go up and we’d have to think hard and long as to whether we wanted to take that much cash out of the TIF.”

MORE: West Chester issuing bonds for huge interchange project meant to break bottlenecks

Going out to bid in the spring, as opposed to earlier in the year, can take the edge off competition because contractors’ plates are pretty full already, according to the engineer. A labor shortage has also increased bids this year, officials said. 

Wilkens already deferred work at another major interchange because the bids for the Tylersville Road widening came in $1 million over the $2 million estimate.

Tim Franck, West Chester’s community services director, said the township would have preferred to have bid the project earlier in the year, but interchange projects are very complicated, with plan revisions needing approval at several levels, including the Ohio Department of Transportation.

“The process for approving plans took a little bit longer than everyone had hoped,” he said. “But you can’t put a project out to bid until you know you have everything right.”

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