Second bids considered for pioneer road

Posted: Sunday, November 26, 2006

Southeast Road Builders trimmed $47.3 million off its initial bid for the Upper Lynn Canal Highway pioneer road, making the Haines-based contractor low bidder in the competition for a state contract.

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The company bid $19.3 million Friday for a scaled-down version of the road, minus two key bridges. That's substantially less than its Wednesday bid of $66.6 million.

Anchorage company Kiewit Pacific Corp. bid $25.1 million, down from $51.5 million.

These bid do not include an estimate for an "Alternative A" extension, which contractors were also required to submit by the Alaska Department of Transportation.

The extension would link Lace River with Sweeney Creek. DOT engineers estimated the cost of that road at $7.9 million.

The pioneer road was initially planned as a 23-mile, 18-foot wide unpaved road with seven temporary bridges.

Since the earlier bids were more than $20 million over the $30 million allocated for the project, DOT reduced the size of the project and asked contractors to submit revised bids Friday, said department spokeswoman Mary Siroky.

Both revised bids, including the extension, still exceed the allocated amount. DOT is now in a "negotiated bid process" with the two contractors.

That means "we can talk to them about any final changes that we need," Siroky said.

A contract was expected to be awarded early next week, she said.

The pioneer road, including the extension, would extend from Echo Cove to the Jualin Mine access road.

Two major bridges were taken out of the project. Those bridges were to have crossed the Antler River and the Lace River, which feed into Berners Bay.

DOT engineers estimated the two bridges would cost a total of $14 million.

Siroky said that DOT officials were not surprised with the discrepancies in the bids.

"When we saw the initial bids, we certainly realized the expensive parts were the temporary bridges," she said.

Siroky said that in place of bridges, the state will employ a barging system.

This means the pioneer road will run from Echo Cove to the Antler River, "then we will barge equipment to the other side where there is some already established barge ramps," she said.

Rich Poor, a retired DOT official, said he suspects the state will open up bids sometime next summer for permanent bridges over the rivers.

Poor, a proponent of the road, said that made more sense than building temporary bridges anyhow.

"I am happy the bids came in, they appear to be low enough now."

Others questioned the way DOT is handling the process.

"This is a highly unusual bidding process," said Joe Geldhof, a Juneau attorney.

"We have clearly left the procurement phase and we have entered a haggling phase," he said. "This isn't procurement anymore, it is haggling between a few political appointments and two contractors."

Richard Knapp, a former DOT commissioner and Juneau resident, disagreed.

"I have no reason to believe what they are doing is anything out of the ordinary," he said. "And in all honesty, I've seen the state commit to sums of money that made far less sense than this road."

Knapp, a pro-roader, said that the project is a good one and the rationale behind those who challenge it "is a bunch of hogwash."

Many, however, believe that the speed of the bidding process is due to the fact that Gov. Frank Murkowski is spending his final days in office.

"There is clearly the intention on the part of a few people in this administration to precipitate a contractual obligation before they leave office in the next few weeks," Geldhof said.

"What they ought to do is go silently into the night."

Murkowski has been a supporter of the road for a long time and should be remembered for his advocacy, Poor said.

"We all have our egos and we all want to be remembered for the things that we have accomplished," he said.

DOT officials contend the pioneer road is the best way to get a head start on the project so that when Army Corps of Engineer permits are granted, the contractor will be ready to begin building.

• Brittany Retherford can be reached at brittany.retherford@juneauempire.com.



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