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Bridge contract awarded; Bid is $30M below estimate.

Byline: John J. Monahan

BOSTON - The Middlesex Corp. submitted the lowest bid for construction of the new Kenneth M. Burns bridge on Route 9 over Lake Quinsigamond, and will get the state contract for $89,764,870 - about $30 million below the estimated cost.

Two other companies bid on the contract for design and construction of the replacement bridge, which will expand the capacity of the bridge from two to three lanes in each direction.

Walsh/Barletta Heavy Joint Venture bid for the project at $93,392,750, and White-Skanska Koch Joint Venture bid $119,230,000. State transportation officials had said last month they were expecting design and construction costs to be about $118 million.

An additional $20 million has been included in the project budget for preliminary planning, geo-technical services, traffic studies, utility relocation and other costs.

The lower-cost bids are linked to a persistent downturn in the construction economy, said Frank DePaola, highway administrator for the state Department of Transportation.

"There is still fairly aggressive competition," for that type of construction, he said.

Mr. DePaola said the state's earlier estimates were based on the prices of projects bid years ago, at a time when there was less competition. New bids are added to the database used for estimate, and lower bid prices coming in will gradually bring state estimates into line with the current environment.

While some may speculate that the more complicated through-arch design might not have proven as costly as estimated when it was ruled out in favor of the seven-arch span, it could have come in above the project budget, he said.

"Our position all along was that the through-arch bridge was more expensive but also not necessary, that we could deliver a bridge that was aesthetically acceptable to the community and served the function of having the bridge over the lake at less cost," Mr. DePaola said.

State Rep. Matthew A. Beaton, R-Shrewsbury, said he was glad the bids came in lower than expected.

"I think it's fantastic," Mr. Beaton said. "To see that come in $30 million under estimated cost I think is a win for Massachusetts," he said. "We are going to have a nice looking, very functional bridge at a very competitive cost, and that is a win," Mr. Beaton said.

He said he remains concerned about eliminating pollution flows and suggested some of the savings could be put toward solving pollution problems.

A two-phase construction plan will allow traffic to flow over the bridge during construction, which is expected to be completed in 2015. The new bridge will have a 6-foot-wide bike lane, an 8-foot sidewalk on the south side and a 12-foot sidewalk on the north side, which will also feature "bump out" viewing areas, benches and some historic story panels.

State Rep. James J. O'Day, D-West Boylston, said yesterday that seeing the bids come in so far below the estimated cost made him question state decisions last year to build a lower-cost seven-span arch bridge, instead of a more elaborate and more costly through-arch design.

Mr. O'Day said while many local officials and residents had sought construction of a through-arch design, state transportation officials said it would cost as much as $140 million to build, and settled on the lower-cost, seven-arch design last fall.

Mr. O'Day said he suspected transportation officials had decided on the lower-cost bridge before last year's public comment period, and did not adequately consider local public support for the through-arch design. He said the through-arch design would have been "a signature bridge" and more aesthetically pleasing.

"With all their architects and engineers, how did they miss it by $30 million?" Mr. O'Day asked yesterday of the final contract price.

If the through-arch design were put to bid, he speculated, it may have come in below the costs the state estimated for the seven-span structure, which would have allowed the more elaborate bridge to be built within the $140 million budget set aside for the project.

Mr. O'Day said he also remains concerned about a sewage and runoff overflow system that empties into the lake and has been the source of continuing pollution problems in the lake, where two state beaches near the bridge are frequently closed because of bacterial contamination.

Several legislators and members of the Lake Quinsigamond Commission had said they would like to see that problem corrected as part of the bridge project. State transportation officials said the bridge construction would not prevent the city from correcting those pollution problems, but have taken no steps to address the existing pollution problems as part of the bridge project.


CUTLINE: (PHOTO) The Burns Memorial Bridge, photographed from the Shrewsbury side of Lake Quinsigamond, will be replaced. (MAP, CHART) Kenneth F. Burns Memorial Bridge replacement project

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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 13, 2012
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