Road construction season almost here: How the Butler County engineer hopes to save taxpayers significant money

It’s almost orange barrel and “road closed” sign time again in Butler County, and county Engineer Greg Wilkens says he is hoping to save taxpayers significant dollars.

Wilkens is about to award a paving contract for the season, and bids came in $537,202 under the estimate to resurface 38 miles of county and township roads. He received two bids, and the apparent low bidder is John R. Jurgensen Company with a price of $6 million, the other bid was $6.95 million.

The bids for the cheaper black mat resurfacing also came in, and the lowest was $85,896 below the estimate to fix about 7.2 miles of roads throughout the county. The low bidder is Strawser Construction at $465,872. The county commissioners have final approval.

“The estimates for us are usually in the middle of the pack of bidders,” Wilkens said. “Then we know we’ve got a real good estimate from our standpoint. We don’t want to be low bid because then we have to rebid the thing.”

While some smaller projects have been started already, the paving projects on county roads and in Fairfield, Hanover, Liberty, Madison, Milford, Morgan, Oxford, St. Clair and West Chester townships are slated to begin April 26 and conclude around Sept. 10. Wilkens bids the annual paving project for county and township roads and manages the program but individual townships pay their own bills.

The West Chester Twp. trustees approved spending $1.9 million for the paving program, when the total estimate for township roads was $3.36 million.

“That’s great news that it came in less,” Trustee Mark Welch said. “I would assume those savings would be passed right onto West Chester and the other communities because we did a bulk buy.”

Wilkens’ largest project this year is the massive fix to the Liberty Way interchange project. Bids were supposed to be opened on Tuesday, but bidders had more questions so the opening has been delayed to April 6.

It will cost an estimated $24.3 million to fix the sometimes tricky Liberty Way interchange at Ohio 129 and Interstate 75. Local tax increment financing (TIF) money will cover around $11.6 million, the federal government is providing an equal match, plus $1.1 million is coming from the state.

Wilkens said it looks like seven general contractors have expressed interest in the job and delaying the bid opening was the best move.

“The more questions we can answer the more risk we take out of the job, the better price we’ll get,” Wilkens said, adding the pandemic world we live in should produce some favorable prices. “The climate’s right for some decent bids.”

State lawmakers last week approved the $8.3 billion, two-year state transportation budget bill and Gov. Mike DeWine is expected to sign it soon. There wasn’t anything terribly exciting in the spending plan, not like two years ago when legislators approved a 10.5-cent-per-gallon gas tax hike and allowed local governments to double vehicle registration fees to $10.

However, a very important cost saving measure was cut as the legislation was crafted. Wilkens is required to bid projects estimated at $30,000 per mile for roadwork and $100,000 for bridge repairs. Earlier versions of the bill raised those limits to $150,000 and $300,000 respectively. The limits haven’t been adjusted since 2003.

“These smaller jobs we’re suited for, we can do that and do it faster and save significant money,” Wilkens said adding they have a bridge repair on Alert New London Road they are about to bid and the estimate is $256,000, doing the job in-house would cost around $121,000. “We just want to be caught up with inflation.”

Jon Honeck, County Commissioners Association of Ohio senior policy analyst, said the limit increase was removed but an inflation adjustment was included. If the governor signs the bill as is, a committee will be formed to discuss the price limit issue and it could end up in the final state budget.

“It’s not dead,” Wilkens said. “They’re still battling through it, we’re still in the hunt.”

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