Unexpectedly high costs are changing two major Butler County road projects

Vehicles travel along Tylersville Road just West of Interstate 75 Wednesday, April 3, 2019 in West Chester Township. The bottleneck busting project to widen Tylersville Road at the Interstate 75 interchange has been delayed again because bids came in $1 million over the estimate. The project to ease congestion and enhance safety on Tylersville Road came in over the $2 million estimate so Butler County Engineer Greg Wilkens has deferred the work to next year, hoping bids will be more favorable in the fall. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

The cost for two critical road projects in Butler County has ballooned, leading the county engineer to delay widening Tylersville Road and increase the estimate for the Union Centre Boulevard interchange by $3 million.

The bottleneck-busting project to widen Tylersville Road at the Interstate 75 interchange — where about 50,000 drivers travel daily — has been delayed again because bids jumped $1 million over the estimate.

The project to ease congestion and enhance safety came in over the $2 million estimate, so Butler County Engineer Greg Wilkens has deferred the work to next year, hoping bids will be more favorable in the fall. The highest bid was $3.37 million and the lowest $3 million.

“It’s scary,” Wilkens said about the bids. “It’s scary when you look at the Union Centre interchange, too. Our estimate has ballooned on that but we haven’t even gotten the bids yet.”

RELATED: Major Tylersville Road project back on track after county spends $2.6M to acquire property

This second phase of the widening project — the eastbound side was completed in 2016 — entails adding a westbound lane on the north side of the road from the interstate to Cox Road. To make that happen, access driveways to the rear of the eateries near Home Depot must be moved. There will now be two access roads to the rear service road, the current one at Dudley Drive and a new one that will run through the old Sunoco gas station site.

This phase of the project has already been delayed once because acquiring right-of-way needed for the widening has been challenging. Wilkens’ office spent almost $2.6 million acquiring the land necessary to complete the project.

Wilkens said the “difficult” property acquisition produced a domino effect that in part caused the high price.

“The right of way on that was a very difficult situation, and it still is not settled quite honestly,” Wilkens said. “That pushed us to be later than we wanted to be.”

Going out to bid in the spring, as opposed earlier in the year can take the edge off competition because contractors plates are pretty full already, according to the engineer. Couple that with the fact this is going to be a tricky job because of the tight space there is to work with and all the work will be done at night.

“They’re not as hungry right now because a lot of them have a lot of work on their plates,” Wilkens said. “And it’s got a risk and reward, because that job has got some very tight and contentious areas to work in, so they’re just bidding it high.”

The labor shortage is another factor at work this bidding season.

The estimate for the UCB interchange jumped $3 million to $17 million and bids for that project are due April 16.

Wilkens said he revised the estimate for “the same premise, their plates are getting full and we’re worried about that.”

Tim Franck, West Chester’s community services director, said they would have liked 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.”

The township authorized issuing $14 million in tax increment financing (TIF)-backed bonds in February but officials said they can pay cash if the bids are higher.

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.

MORE: West Chester Twp. trustees agree to sell $14 million in bonds for UCB diverging diamond

Trustee Board President Mark Welch said the township can handle $3 million but will have to take a hard look if the prices are really high.

“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.”

The township has $31.7 million in the Union Centre tax increment financing (TIF) fund.

UCB is critical to the township’s future economic development Trustee Ann Becker said, so unless the final cost is truly outrageous the interchange upgrade is a must.

“The township has a firm commitment to making sure economic development is moving forward,” Becker said. “The UCB district is the economic powerhouse of our township, so making sure it’s in good shape is the best use of money I think we have in that part of town.”

Phase two of the project to widen congested Tylersville Road in West Chester Twp. has been delayed because bids came in well over the $2 million estimate.

The county received three bids:

• Sunesis Construction Company $3 million

• Ford Development $3.18 million

• Barrett Paving Materials, Inc. $3.37 million

Source: Butler County Engineer’s Office

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