Minnesota Highway Project Allows Bidders to Pick Pavement Type


A Highway 23 expansion in the St. Cloud area is the focus of an unusual contracting arrangement that lets the bidding process determine what type of pavement will be used.

Call it the flexible pavement plan.

Officially, it's known in Minnesota Department of Transportation circles as "alternative pavement" bidding.

Under alternative pavement bidding, contractors may submit a bid that calls for either bituminous or concrete pavement. Bituminous bids are adjusted to reflect cost and life cycle differences in the materials.

The idea is to allow concrete and bituminous to compete on a more "head-to-head" basis, said Terry Humbert, project development engineer for MnDOT's District 3.

But for bituminous bidders there is a catch. Bituminous tends to have lower upfront costs but does not last as long as concrete, so if a bidder opts for bituminous, MnDOT adds a "life cycle adjustment" to the bid.

In the case of the Highway 23 project, the adjustment is $914,000.

Humbert said the Highway 23 project marks the first time alternative pavement bidding has been used in District 3, which covers all or parts of the counties of Aitkin, Benton, Cass, Crow Wing, Isanti, Itasca, Kanabec, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Sherburne, Stearns, Todd, Wadena and Wright.

The process is relatively new statewide, he said, adding that it is not going to be used on every project.

On Friday morning, Angora, Minn.-based KGM Contractors appeared to have a low bid of $24.95 million for the Highway 23 project, which is expected to improve safety and increase capacity on a heavily traveled two-lane road between St. Cloud and Foley.

But KGM Contractors' bid was subject to the life cycle adjustment, which bumped the number up to $25.868 million. After the adjustment, Black River Falls, Wis.-based Hoffman Construction, which opted to go with concrete, emerged as the apparent low bidder at $25.827 million.

Seven bidders vied for the work.

"Three of the bids had adjustments done to them," Humbert said.

Driven by a competitive bid environment with contractors hungry for work, the bids came in well under the $28.5 million estimate by MnDOT's State Transportation Improvement Program.

MnDOT's website listed it as a $36 million project.

"The prices have been really good," Humbert said. "We are pretty happy with it. "

The project has been in the works since at least 2000. Work was supposed to start in 2008, but a lack of funding delayed the project.

MnDOT expects work to start in June and finish up in the fall of 2012.

The project stretches eight miles from Highway 95 east of St. Cloud to Highway 25 in Foley. Crews will build four new lanes, construct a bridge, realign intersecting roads, upgrade traffic signals and more.

MnDOT expects traffic on the highway to grow from 7,300 vehicles a day in 2006 to 14,000 by 2030, and describes the existing two-lane road as having a "history of fatal and serious injury crashes. "

In early 2000, MnDOT reviewed high-volume two-lane roads and looked at crash rates and fatal crashes. Based in part on that review, Highway 23 "stood out as being worthy" of expansion to four lanes, Humbert said.

Highway 23 was one of 24 projects let by MnDOT on Friday. Projects ranged in size from $139,700 for Highway 7 lighting improvements in Hennepin County to the $25.8 million expansion of Highway 23.

One project calls for an unbonded concrete overlay, essentially a long-term pavement improvement, for a stretch of Interstate 35E between White Bear Lake and Columbus.

St. Michael-based PCI Roads had an apparent low bid of $20.4 million for the Interstate 35E project, beating out Shafer, Minn.-based Shafer Contracting at $21.17 million and Maple Grove-based C.S. McCrossan at $22.26 million.

Among the other projects let on Friday: bituminous mill and overlay on Highway 29 in Otter Tail County (Alexandria-based Central Specialties, $3.34 million), and bituminous mill and overlay on Highway 220 in Kittson County (Thief River Falls-based Minn-Dak Asphalt, $5.825 million).

Apparent low bids

Highway 23 project: $25.827M, Hoffman Construction, Black River Falls, Wis.

Interstate 35E: $20.4M, PCI Roads, St. Michael, Minn.

Source: Minnesota Department of Transportation