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Town project bid comes in high

Traffic moves east on West King Street at the intersection of Capon Road as Public Works crews start the next phase of Strasburg's downtown utility enhancement project. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

Strasburg Public Works crews work in cleaning out this section of roadway to locate utility lines at the intersection of West King and Capon streets. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

Lone Strasburg streetscape project bid 44 percent higher than estimated cost

By Alex Bridges

Strasburg's downtown streetscape project may cost much more than initially expected.

Town Manager Judson Rex told members of the town's Infrastructure Committee on Monday that Strasburg recently received one bid from a firm interested in building the streetscape project.

Charlottesville-based Faulconer Construction Company submitted the sole bid for the first two phases of the project, proposing to build the phases of the downtown beautification project for just under $1.83 million -- an amount exceeding the estimated cost of $1.26 million by 44 percent.

The state covers 80 percent of the cost, leaving Strasburg to pick up the remaining 20 percent. The share of the cost remains the same regardless of the project's price tag. Given the original estimate and the funding formula, the town would pay approximately $252,000 of the cost with the Virginia Department of Transportation covering about $1 million. However, the town's share increases to $365,100 and VDOT's to nearly $1.5 million, based on the Faulconer bid.

The town's project drew little interest from the construction community.

"It's just mostly the fact that we only got one bid," Rex said Monday afternoon. "Bids are always going to be different than the estimate, but the fact that we got one bid we have nothing to compare it against as far as if it is a competitive bid or if it is something that is an outlier."

Strasburg shares the cost of the federally funded project with VDOT, Rex explained. Whether the state awards the contract to Faulconer or takes a different route remains to be seen. But VDOT ultimately has the authority to approve the bid or to have the town advertise the project again in hopes it draws more interested firms, Rex said. VDOT audits the bids to make sure they're competitive, he added.

"The difficult part is that streetscape projects are kind of a niche market and not a lot of general contractors like to get into pulling out old sidewalks," Rex said. "It's a little more risky venture than just putting up a new building or building a water tower or wastewater plant. Not everybody can do it."

Rex also blamed a "volatile" bidding environment and a sharp decline in the number of contractors in business since the beginning of the recession.

Meanwhile, crews began work Sunday night on the second phase of the downtown utility enhancement project. The work covers King Street from Capon Street to Fort Street and can include side streets. The Department of Public Works scheduled excavation and construction to occur at night from Sunday to Thursday, with paving to occur during the day on Fridays.

The work mirrors what the town did in the first phase, from Holliday Street to Fort Street.

The first two phases of the utility enhancement project remain funded through the town's water and sewer funds. The town has budgeted a total of approximately $430,000 from the two funding sources for the second phase. The complexity of the existing sewer lines makes that part of the project more expensive than replacement of the water system, Rex said.

The town has not seen any cost overruns related to the project.

"That would change if we're out digging and something comes up that's unexpected," Rex said. "But we planned pretty conservatively for the project. ... At least we have a better feel for what's out there since this is phase two and we've done phase one and we kind of know a little more what to expect."

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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