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Bidding process starts for bridge-replacement project

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Contract to be awarded in the fall

By Phyllis McLaughlin

The Trimble Banner

With funding in place for the $131 million replacement of the Milton-Madison Bridge over the Ohio River, the actual project begins in earnest this week, as officials begin advertising for bid proposals from qualified contractors and design firms.

Potential bidders will be able to request a “contract book” from either the Indiana Department of Transportation or the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. The document outlines the design plans drawn up by Wilbur Smith Associates from the nearly two years of meetings with the Project Advisory Group, and details the commitments to historic and environmental preservation included in the Memorandum of Agreement, finalized in January. Those commitments include, for example, relocation of the peregrine falcon nest on the bridge during construction and replacing it on the bridge once the project is completed.

The contract book also outlines other requirements – specifically, completing the truss design chosen by the project team and keeping it similar to the existing span, building ferry landings and subcontracting a ferry-service operator. The contractor hired also must ensure the crossing, itself, is closed 12 months or less from the time the existing span is removed to completion of the new span.

The project must be completed by Dec. 31, 2012, as dictated by the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant program, which awarded $20 million in federal funds to the project through the American Reinvestment Recovery Act of 2009, also known as the TIGER grant.

Project manager John Carr of Wilbur Smith Associates said last week that a meeting has been scheduled for July 7, during which INDOT and KYTC officials will take questions from prospective design-build teams and give them a chance to visit the bridge site.

At this point, design plans for the structure are about 35 percent complete, Carr said. In the bid proposals, the design-build teams vying for the job will be required to finish the design plans, determining labor, equipment and material needs – down to the last bolt – required to complete the project. The proposals also will include cost estimates.

In September, the bids will be opened and reviewed, and the project will be awarded to the qualified design-build team that proposes completion of the bridge at the lowest cost while meeting all of the requirements listed in the contract book, Carr said.

To be considered “qualified” for this project, a design firm must have experience in designing a “major span” of 500 feet or longer. The Milton-Madison Bridge is 3,184 feet long.

“It takes a different type of design expertise than smaller bridges,” Carr said, adding that this will shrink the pool of prospective bidders. “There are very few firms qualified to do long-span bridges. There are probably about 10 firms that qualify in the United States. Only about three to five of them may bid on the project.”

To be considered a “qualified” contractor, Carr said a firm must have demonstrated past performance on long-span bridges and be able to show they have the equipment and experienced labor needed to do the project.

Though contractors will be required to build a truss-style bridge, Carr said bidders do have room for creativity. “They have some flexibility in the size of the bridge members, the number of diagonal members and how the portals will look,” he said, explaining that the portals are the points where traffic enters and exits the span. “The real creativity will come in how to put the bridge on the piers. Will it be ‘stick built’ [or built directly] on the piers, built on-site in sections and placed on the piers, or built off-site and barged in?”

The key for the winning bidder, he said, is to be able to minimize the length of time the bridge will be closed to reduce the “hassle” for the public.

Also, “minimizing the time the ferry is operating saves him money,” Carr explained. He said it’s entirely possible the contractor hired may opt to complete half of the new bridge span and open that to traffic while completing the other half.

“I’m expecting some strong innovation in this project.”

Design-build oversight goes to INDOT

Because the state of Kentucky limits the Transportation Cabinet to 10 design-build projects at any given time, oversight of construction of the Milton-Madison Bridge will be handled by the Indiana Department of Transportation.

KYTC has met its quota of design-build projects, so in order to keep the project moving forward, state officials have agreed to give INDOT the authority to oversee the bridge project. There is no such limit on design-build projects for INDOT.

“Kentucky still has a role in decision-making in the project,” Carr said.

“Design-build” means design and construction of the span will take place simultaneously. In other words, the contractor will build the bridge and ferry landings in phases as designers complete plans for each portion of the project. The process is designed to ensure projects are completed in a shorter time frame than the traditional method of building a project after designs are completed for the entire project, which can add years to a project.

Inspectors will monitor every step of the project for quality and safety, Carr said.

Since the 1950s, the states of Kentucky and Indiana have owned the bridge equally so that both states can share maintenance costs, even though three-fourths of the Ohio River falls within Kentucky’s borders.

Therefore, even though INDOT has authority to oversee the project, KYTC continues to have input over the project.

And, as the project moves forward, Carr and Wilbur Smith Associates will take a back seat and Aaron Stover of Michael Baker Jr. Inc., an engineering firm that has been involved with the project from the beginning as a consultant, will take over as project manager.