Mississippi DOT Takes Step Toward Online Bidding

Thu February 01, 2007 - Southeast Edition
Maybelle G. Cagle



Contractors are adapting well to a new way of bidding on Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) projects.

Modernizing the manual processing of bids hasn’t been in effect long, but contractors have indicated that they support the changes.

The new process began in November. The department does not take bids in December and the second full month of operation for the new system comes in January.

Four MDOT employees, B.B. House, Mark Turner, Billy Owen and Neal Dougherty, received Silver Ant Awards from the department for their commitment to change the division’s 20-year-old manual of processing bids, awards and administering contracts to implementing an automated process which allows employees to generate custom reports and to automate monthly estimates for contractors.

“Mississippi is one of the last states to begin using Expedite Bid,” said House, an MDOT contract administration engineer.

He said the old system was “a home-grown disk-based bidding system. Contractors could enter pricing and have bid pages printed out that they would then sign and submit with their proposal.” The old system was based on an old Foxpro database application, added House.

“Expedite Bid allows contractors to enter their unit prices and have their bid extensions created automatically. All of this is accomplished through a Windows-based program. The new implementation is also disk-based with the ability to incorporate electronic bidding in the future,” House said.

While the old and new programs are both disk-based, the information from the new system can be seamlessly passed to the other Trns*port modules in use at MDOT (PES/LAS, DSS, SiteManager).

Implementation work on the changes began in January 2006 and in-house testing began in July 2006.

“This new program, Expedite Bid, is a stepping stone to online, electronic bidding. While this is a future step, it is an easy step once the software is in use,” House said

The old system was used for approximately seven years.

“Many hours of work have gone into our implementation from programmers in information systems to construction staff and contract administration staff,” House said.

House said Expedite Bid is much easier to use than the previous system and will reduce math errors that sometimes occur on handwritten bids.

The amount of bids received during each bidding month varies with the number of contracts advertised. “Usually, we receive between two and five bids on most projects,” House said

Bids can only be submitted on disk.

“We are currently working with the Mississippi Road Builders and local bonding companies to make sure everything is in place for MDOT to go electronic in the future. For MDOT, electronic bidding will bring on a new set of issues. Right now, we are working to win everybody over to the new system,” he noted.

MDOT Executive Director Butch Brown praised House and his fellow employees for their work that led to the Silver Ant Award.

“I started the award about three years ago. I give it whenever somebody goes beyond their duties,” said Brown. “I am extremely proud of the commitment and dedication shown by these employees. The SiteManager, Expedite programs and the live video of bids allow MDOT to be more proficient in compiling information for contracts and administering contracts.”

He said the Mississippi Road Builders Association was “an integral part of the discussions” that led to the changes. “We kept them informed. They gave us ideas and assistance. We had the industry support,” Brown said.

David Barton, executive director of the Mississippi Road Builders Association, believes the change is positive. “It will lessen errors and make things faster and simpler,” he said.

Barton realizes that MDOT is heading toward becoming electronic in the bid process.

“It’s got some benefits and some negatives. We want what is best for our members. If electronic bidding comes and is best for them [contractors], that’s great,” Barton said.

He noted electronic bidding would eliminate long trips for some contractors. But at the same time, said Barnett, it would remove some of the human element.

For example, said Barton, members of the association gather the day before the bid letting. They attend an association-sponsored reception and talk about their bids and other related issues. “That probably will disappear one day,” said Barton.

Some contractors like T.L. Wallace Construction haven’t yet tried the system.

“I think we will like it, but there hasn’t been that much work to bid since they initiated it,” said Mike Wallace, company vice president.

T.L. Wallace, located in Columbia, Miss., constructs buildings, highways and bridges and other municipal and public works projects.

David Trevathan, president of Key Constructors in Jackson, Miss., which also does highway construction, said his firm would bid two jobs at the January bid letting.

“Like the old electronic system, Expedite is easy to use and greatly reduces the possibility of a mathematical error. The advantages of Expedite over the old system are a reduction in the number of disks issued and an improved import/export option. We like the system for those reasons, but what we really like is that it is one more step toward true electronic bidding,” Trevathan said.

Mike Tucker, area manager for APAC, is already familiar with the department’s new system.

“Tennessee has been using it a little while longer than Mississippi, for at least two to three years. Tennessee is also doing a little online bid letting,” Tucker said. “It helps us save time. We can download from Expedite into an existing estimating program. I think it’s a good thing. I think the whole industry stays behind in technology.”

MDOT broadcasts bid lettings on its Web site, www.gomdot.com. It began as audio only in October 2005 and expanded to audio/video in November 2005. CEG