First Contract Awarded for U.S. 93 Bypass

By Beacon Staff

The U.S. 93 bypass is on its way to becoming a concrete reality now that the contract for the first section of the project has been awarded to Utah-based Ames Construction.

The contract is for the first 1.54-mile segment of the southern section of the bypass, which will run from U.S. Highway 2 to Airport Road. The second segment, which will connect U.S. Highway 2 back to U.S. Highway 93, will go to bid in early December.

The Montana Transportation Commission awarded construction to Ames because provisions in the federal stimulus, which will fund the project, require the state agency take the lowest bid, Montana Department of Transportation Director Jim Lynch said.

“We don’t have a choice under state and federal contracting laws because it’s federal funds,” Lynch said. “We have to award it to the lowest bidder.”

The state engineer estimated that this section of the route would cost more than $16 million to construct. Ames Construction, however, said it could do the job for around $12.5 million, the lowest of the seven companies that sought the contract.

The second-lowest bid came from Kalispell-based Nelcon Inc., at $12.9 million. Other bidders included Riverside Contracting, Inc. from Missoula, which bid $13.68 million; Columbia Falls-based Schellinger Construction Co. Inc., bidding $13.73 million; Knife River of Kalispell, bidding $16.3 million; MA Deatley Construction of Washington, which bid over $16.4 million and Kalispell-based LHC Inc., who rounded out the bidding with $16.94 million.

Lynch said he could understand local grumblings about an out-of-state company winning the contract, but said the commission must choose the lowest bid to protect taxpayers.

But Lynch also expects that Ames will use local services, such as hotel rooms and construction supplies, which he said would give a boost the valley economy. He also said it is not uncommon for out-of-state companies to subcontract some of the work to local companies.

“The project isn’t going to be assembled and built somewhere else and brought into Kalispell,” Lynch said.

Ames will be allowed to begin construction at the end of the month, but Bob Parker, the company’s industrial division manager, said construction would not begin until March.

“We’ll start a little later and work a little harder,” Parker said. The stretch of road is scheduled to be drivable by Fall 2010.

Ames is not new to Montana. One of its most recent projects was the 36-mile line of railroad that connected the Bull Mountain coalmine north of Billings to the Burlington Northern Sante Fe rail lines to help coal distribution. It has also worked on projects in Missoula. Parker said these projects have provided Ames with a familiarity of subcontracting in Montana and that’s also possible for the bypass project.

“We’re excited to get back and do more work in Montana,” Parker said.

Along with the contract came a new name; instead of calling the road a bypass, local business owners and city officials would prefer to call it the “alternate truck route,” Kalispell Chamber of Commerce President Joe Unterreiner said.

The new name will help promote Kalispell as a tourist destination, Unterreiner said, and businesses in downtown need to keep the area interesting and exciting. He also said there would need to be an agreement with the transportation department to ensure proper signage designating routes into the city.

Otherwise, Unterreiner said the chamber is excited about the development and said that the alternate route will be a welcome addition to the valley transportation system.

“I’ve been here since ’96 and it’s been a regular item on our transportation agenda for the last 13 years,” Unterreiner said. “It’s exciting that it’s coming to fruition.”

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