Low bids cut Oak Harbor's Pioneer Way project costs

Oak Harbor city officials are breathing a sigh of relief this week as it looks like the most expensive part of the controversial SE Pioneer Way project will cost far less than planned.

An official bidding session was held at City Hall Thursday afternoon for general contractors interested in performing the actual work to alter the downtown street into an eastbound one-way. Of the six firms that bid, all submitted estimates well below the project’s anticipated $5.1 million price tag.

“It sounds like we may save between 10 and 20 percent, which is really exciting,” Mayor Jim Slowik said, moments after bidding came to a close.

The lowest bid came in from Bellingham-based Strider Construction at $3.86 million, while the highest was submitted by Woodinville-based Westcoast Construction at $4.33 million.

Oak Harbor’s Krieg Construction was the only Whidbey contractor to bid but the estimate was $4.21 million, which makes it unlikely that the company will get the job.

State law requires that governments put public projects out to bid to keep costs low and to ensure that no favoritism is involved. According to City Engineer Eric Johnston, the rules say the firm with the lowest price wins but they also stipulate that the companies be qualified.

This project, for example, asked that contractors have prior experience with projects similar in size and scale. Their quotes also have to be accurate. Johnston said each of the bids would be closely reviewed over the next week so that a winner can be presented to the city council Feb. 1.

Johnston said that while everyone is relieved that the project will cost less than what was budgeted, it’s not necessarily a surprise. Perteet, the consulting firm the city hired to design the project, purposely estimated construction costs on the high-end, he said.

In addition, the economy over the past two years has made for a tough and competitive bidding climate in the development industry.

“Contractors are hungry and looking for work,” Johnston said.

In fact, it’s a trend that’s proved true with many of the individual contracts for the one-way road project. Costs for surveyors, design firms, and a construction manager have all been below estimates. So far, it’s whittled the project’s projected $8.35 million bill down to about $7 million.

Johnston said that may mean the city won’t have to dip so deep into its Real Estate Excise Tax funds — a pot expected to contribute up to $5.5 million for the one-way conversion — and leave money for other public works projects. But there may be other plans in store for some of the money.

“I’m thinking about public art and a marketing plan,” Slowik said.

Plans have been discussed to spend up to $80,000 on works of art along Pioneer Way and to spend much more on a marketing plan to mitigate the impact of construction on downtown merchants and to help fill vacant storefronts with new business owners.

Several city council members have expressed a strong desire to keep costs down on the controversial road project, but Slowik hopes this may be just the financial cushion needed to get their approval for such expenses.

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