The long-planned Rt. 9 traffic calming project hit a price tag roadblock last week, the Town of Hillsboro has decided to reassess its plans.

Last week, the town received three bids from construction firms interested in handling the work—work that will see the construction of two roundabouts, new sidewalks and buried powerlines. But those bids came in about $5 million to $10 million higher than project engineers’ cost estimates. General Excavation bid $19.95 million, A&M Concrete Corp. bid $20.82 million and Shirley Contracting bid $24.99 million. In response, the town rejected all three bids and is now working with the county government and VDOT to find ways to lower costs and re-advertise the project on Aug. 29.

According to Mayor Roger Vance, there are a few contributing factors to the higher-than-expected bids. One of those is Northern Virginia’s “hot construction market.”

“Everybody across-the-board is feeling it,” he said. “It’s not insignificant.”

            Another factor is that the work plan included a requirement to keep at least one of Rt. 9’s lanes still open to through traffic during the work—a condition that would slow work and increase costs for construction crews. “What we’re hearing loud and clear is maintenance of traffic is the big driver,” Vance said.

Vance said that while the town had contingencies built into its plans, they weren’t enough to compensate for the high bids.

Hillsboro is only one victim of the hot construction market in Northern Virginia. Governments around the area—including Loudoun County—have also struggled as project costs have gone steadily up.

Recently, county government staff members were sent scrambling to find more money for the long-awaited Hal and Berni Hanson Regional Park. While the county had budgeted $64 million for the project, the lowest bid to build it, from Hess Construction, was $76.6 million. That could have meant significant cuts from the project, such as losing all its baseball diamonds and tennis courts. County staff found the extra money through a combination of proffer money, bonds, and contingency funding, and the company broke ground on the project June 29.

Another project, to construct sidewalks and trails along East Loudoun Street in Round Hill to Franklin Park in Purcellville, saw overruns in the cost of acquiring right-of-way, causing delays that further pushed the price up. That project, originally budgeted at around $2.74 million, was nearly doubled in price with an estimated budget shortfall of $2.25 million.

To defray a large portion of the Hillsboro project’s cost, the town is working with VDOT to find a scope of work that will “get the job done in a much speedier, efficient fashion,” Vance said. Project engineers are looking at possibly extending construction crews’ workdays by several hours and at closing both lanes of Rt. 9 at certain times of the day to allow uninterrupted work.

            Vance said engineers are reviewing potential detour routes and determining how full road closures would affect traffic. He said that if the project does close both lanes at times, it could lead to work wrapping up in single year, as opposed to two years.

Vance said the town has “met extensively” with its engineers to do a “thorough analysis of the bids” and that they are working to “fare out any potential cost savings” and trying to better understand why some bids were so high.

“We went through an exhaustive process of looking at that,” he said. “We are aggressively looking at the best way to build this road … I feel like we are making a lot of progress.”

Once the town determines the best way to cut costs and is ready to move forward, it will re-advertise an invitation for bids. That should happen by Aug. 29, followed by a mandatory pre-bidders conference on Sept. 5. The town should then open the bids three weeks later on Sept. 26.

Vance said that if the town follows that timeline, it should award a construction contract in October, which means construction should begin before 2020.

“We do want this project awarded and underway this year,” he said. “I feel good—it’s going to be built.”

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