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Ark. Road Projects Tally 30 Percent Below Cost Estimate

Fri September 30, 2011 - Southeast Edition
CEG



LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) The bids on Arkansas highway projects in 2010 came in 30 percent lower than estimated, leaving the state with about $70 million to use on speeding up other projects.

“Our engineers base their estimates on historical data,” said Randy Ort, a spokesman of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department. “They have had a hard time in recent years. Costs have fluctuated so much.”

Ort told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that about $20 million will be used to place cable barriers along interstate medians from Fort Smith to Forrest City in 2012. The projects had been planned for 2013.

Cable barriers are designed to prevent crashes caused by vehicles crossing medians into oncoming traffic.

“They’re relatively simpler to develop. No right-of-way issues, very little environmental documentation,” Ort said of the barriers.

The barriers will be placed along Interstate 40 from Russellville to Little Rock and in St. Francis County surrounding Forrest City; Interstate 30 in Clark and Hot Spring counties south of Hot Springs; Interstate 540 in Fort Smith; and Interstate 430 in west Little Rock.

Records show that highway department engineers were on target with cost estimates for projects in 2005 and 2006, missing the actual contract numbers by less than 1 percent. But in 2007, as the national economy declined, winning bids for state highway contracts started coming in lower than estimated.

Contractors said there’s little chance of highway costs rising soon. They said that will hold true as long as they continue cutting profits and residential and industrial construction don’t pick up.

“Too many mice chasing not enough cheese,” said Don Weaver of Weaver-Bailey Contractors Inc. of El Paso, Ark. His company is working on one of the state’s largest road projects, $78 million in improvements to the Interstate 430/Interstate 630 interchange in Little Rock.

“There are more bidders, and they’re working on less profit margin,” Weaver said. “Some have no profit margin — they’re just covering their overhead.”

Contractor Mark Lamberth of Atlas Asphalt in Batesville cited uncertainty in the construction industry over how much money will be available for federal and state road spending.

“Quite frankly, we have a lot of money invested in our crews that we can’t afford to lose,” Lamberth said. “A lot of contractors are working cheaper to keep their crews together.”