Interstate 70 bids $74 million over budget

DOH spokesman says proposals will be reviewed

WHEELING — “Roads to Prosperity” projects to rehabilitate bridges along Interstate 70 in Ohio County could cost the state more than expected after bids for the work submitted last week exceeded anticipated costs by about $74 million.

West Virginia voters last year approved a $2 billion bond levy to improve roads throughout the state, with the largest of the projects to take place in Ohio County. The state Department of Highway plans to rehabilitate 25 bridges in the county along I-70, including work on abutments and approaches, said DOH spokesman Brent Walker.

“Yes, the bids came in a little higher,” Walker said. “But just like with any other project, we will evaluate them, and put them through a review process. When they do come in higher, we will look at any factors that might contribute to costs. We then determine whether we will reject or award the bid. That is where we are now.”

He doesn’t know yet whether the bids will be rejected, but he doesn’t expect the work in the county to be delayed because of the higher-than-expected bids.

“This is not uncommon,” said Walker. “We often have projects where bids come in higher than estimates. That’s part of this, and it is not uncommon.”

The projects here aren’t just the largest of the projects, said Walker. They are also the first to go out for bid. The work was initially set to cost about $172 million, but the engineer’s estimate has been revised to about $201 million, he said.

The lowest of three bids submitted came in at $275 million. It was proposed by Trumbull-Kokosing, a contractor and an engineering firm seeking to work jointly on the design phase of the project, according to Walker.

While motorists may not see work happening along the highway by the end of this year, that doesn’t mean progress isn’t happening, he said. The design and engineering work will be taking place.

He expects “dirt to fly” early in 2019.

“This project is important to Gov. Jim Justice, the community, and those traveling I-70,” Walker said. “It is also an important project to the DOH.

“We will continue to go through process,” he said. “We will talk about it more in the next week to 10 days.”

David Brabham, acting director of DOH District 6, said the DOH is “probably not terribly concerned” about the high bids because they also will have more money to work with on the project than they expected. The first of the bond sales in late May netted a lower interest rate than what was projected.

Justice administration officials secured a 3.575 percent interest rate on the series of general obligation state road bonds. With interest, these road bonds should leverage $915 million in borrowing for state road projects, according to information released by the governor’s office following the sale.

Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, wants more details on the matter and how it further will affect completion of projects throughout the state.

“I’ll be anxious to hear form the DOH about how they arrived at those estimates, and what their plan will be to make adjustments,” he said. “When the governor traveled the state asking everyone to support the road bond, he listed all the projects that would be completed if the road bond was passed. People voted for the road bond based on those claims.”