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Connecting Idaho: Denver Company to Lead $1.2B Job

Sat November 12, 2005 - West Edition
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BOISE, ID (AP) An engineering and construction partnership of Washington Group International and CH2M Hill Inc. has beaten out a New York rival to oversee Idaho’s $1.2 billion road-building program, approved by the Legislature to link disparate parts of the state and boost the economy.

Washington Group of Boise, and Denver-based CH2M Hill won the contract over competitor Parsons-Brinkerhoff, the Idaho Transportation Department said. Financial details of the contract will be worked out in talks planned in coming months, Washington Group program manager Dave Butzier said.

“Connecting Idaho” includes 13 major projects on 250 miles of highway –– including a new thoroughfare north of Emmett through the Indian Valley and a new bridge across the Snake River at Twin Falls –– that Gov. Dirk Kempthorne promoted last year to create jobs, speed over-the-road commerce and make roads such as U.S. Highway 95 near Coeur d’Alene safer.

It’ll be financed by bonds backed by future federal transportation dollars that the state expects to receive.

This program is more than 10 times larger than anything the Idaho Transportation Department has previously undertaken. Agency officials opted to hire outside companies to handle general contracting duties instead of expanding their own management team. More than 100 engineering and construction contracts are expected to be awarded.

“This is beyond the size and scope of what we’re physically capable of doing with the people we have on board,” said Mel Coulter, a department spokesman. “We want to grow the system, not the department.”

Washington Group and CH2M Hill have been directed to draw up contract proposals that are relatively small –– $10 million to $50 million –– to make sure Idaho companies can compete for them and they don’t all go to larger road construction companies from out of state, Butzier said.

That was one of the selling points for Kempthorne earlier this year as he fought legislative opposition to the plan, which he sees as helping cement his legacy as the pro-business governor who helped Idaho wrest itself from the 2002 economic doldrums.

“A big part of getting this whole program approved was the Associated General Contractors of Idaho. They’re responsible for making sure their member firms will have something to do with it,” Butzier said. ”Their concern was, If the contracts were too big, then they would all go to big out-of-state firms.”

Even so, Coulter said the contracts will be awarded to the most competitive bidder.

“We hope Idaho companies will be favorably positioned to bid on them,” he said. But there are “two major factors: to get the best product we can, and get the best cost.”

Washington Group, which expects 20 to 50 employees will eventually work on overseeing the Idaho projects, has done similar program management work across the U.S., including the multibillion-dollar E470 toll highway that runs along the eastern perimeter of Denver. It was built in 1999.

For “Connecting Idaho,” it and CH2M Hill will be responsible for preliminary engineering work as well as preparing environmental documents for the projects on Kempthorne’s list. In addition, the companies will have a hand in hiring engineering firms to do final design work before construction on the projects begins.

The Idaho Transportation Board is in the process of prioritizing which of the 13 projects should be undertaken. Lawmakers will responsible for approving funding for them during the 2006 session, which starts in January.

The highway projects are scheduled to be built over the next 15 years, the state has said.