A mile-long stretch of Route 15 in South Brewer stretching south from Interstate 395 to the Orrington town line is one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares. For two years now, city officials have been assuring residents and businesses that the Maine Department of Transportation will pave the road this summer, according to Finance Director Karen Fussell.
That was the department’s plan as well, until unexpectedly high bids from firms interested in doing the work forced the state agency to put the project on hold.
Statewide, the DOT has so far rejected three project bids in the runup to the 2019 construction season after quotes from interested firms exceeded project cost estimates by at least 60 percent.
One of the rejected bids was for a combined proposal to do paving work in Brewer, Orrington and Old Town. Individually, the paving projects were small, but the DOT grouped them together in hopes that the larger project would attract more competitive bids, Fussell said.
The DOT estimated the work would cost about $1.3 million, according to a DOT document outlining its revisions to construction plans. But the lowest bid that came in for the joint paving project was for $2.1 million.
“The costs of construction have been a lot more than we anticipated,” said department spokesman Paul Merrill. “But we didn’t expect them to be so high that it would prompt us to rethink our plans in the middle of the year.”
The DOT has a running three-year work plan for road projects around the state. The current plan lists projects slated for 2019, 2020 and 2021. The Department of Transportation had already raised project cost estimates by 10 percent before advertising 2019 construction projects earlier this year, but that additional cushion proved insufficient.
Brewer officials learned that the DOT had rejected bids for the Route 15 paving job in an April meeting with state transportation officials. The new plan, as discussed in that meeting, is to put each of the paving projects out to bid individually.
“Brewer’s hoping its South Main Street project will get back out to bid early this summer,” Fussell said.
Even with that timeline, actual construction will be delayed for a few months, which does not bode well given the condition of the state road.
“We are very disappointed because it’s a major thoroughfare for the city, and the condition of the road is in desperate need of repair,” Fussell said.
The other two bids the Department of Transportation has rejected were for a paving project on Route 1 in Rockland for which bids came in 90 percent over estimates and intersection improvements on Congress Street in Portland for which bids exceeded project estimates by 120 percent. The lowest bid for the Rockland work was $4 million for a project estimated to cost $2.1 million. In Portland, the Congress Street intersection work was estimated to cost $500,000, and the lowest bid came in at $1.1 million.
The DOT said it decided to cancel some work based on the amount by which bids exceeded estimates, the current road conditions and a lack of competition for the work. The department said it expects a shortage of construction workers to be a root cause of the spiraling construction costs.
As for Brewer, the city is making plans to contribute more than its required share of 10 percent for the road work if the new bidding process demands it, Fussell said.
“After this winter, the road is in very very difficult condition,” she said. “It remains to be seen how we are going to manage through the fall.”