Old 61 rehab start hits another snag

Likely that project will now be completed in 2020, but work could start yet in the fall.


FORT MADISON – It was on. Then it was off. Then it was on again. And then nothing happened… well, something happened.

The Fort Madison City Council scheduled a public hearing for Tuesday night’s regular meeting to discuss the current bid to reconstruct part of Avenue H from 2nd to 6th streets.

But the posted agenda for the council meeting indicated the council wouldn’t be holding the public hearing even though it was still listed as an agenda item.

The city was to move straight to an agenda item where Mayor Brad Randolph was to ask for motion and a second to reject a current bid for the project. That item died because no motion was made to reject the bid

Jones Contracting of West Point submitted the only bid for the work at $3.33 million, but engineering estimates from the city’s engineering firm HR Green of Cedar Rapids was about 20% below the bid at $2.76 million.


Public Works Director Larry Driscoll recommended the bid be rejected and the city rebid the project in the fall.

Driscoll said rebidding the project in the fall would allow the city to work with the engineering firm to possibly reduce the costs of the project, and take advantage of more favorable bidding schedules.

However with the agenda item to reject the bid dying for lack of a motion, City Clerk Melinda Blind said the public hearing will likely be put back on the agenda for the next meeting to review the contract for the work.

During the meeting, Mayor Brad Randolph called a point of order to discuss the issue with the city’s attorney Robert Johnson. Randolph said he was uncomfortable with moving to the vote to reject the bid without the hearing first.


Johnson told Randolph he didn’t need the hearing if the bid rejected, but Randolph said they wouldn’t know if that happened until the council voted on it.

“I’m not sure I like that. I just want to make sure if the bid is not openly rejected for whatever reason – shouldn’t we have had the public hearing?” Randolph asked Johnson.

Bob Morawitz made a motion to reinstate the public hearing and Randolph said he was still going to hold the public hearing, despite the posted agenda indicating the public hearing would not be held.

During that hearing, Pat Jones of Jones Contracting said he had questions as to where the city was going to find the savings.

“My question is what’s going to change when you rebid it, what do you gotta do to get the price tag down, and how much faith do we have in the engineer’s estimate?” Jones asked the council.

“You’ve got a local contractor, I use a lot of local (subcontractors), I know the local market. I guess where does his estimate come into play against mine.”

Councilman Matt Mohrfeld said the questions were legitimate concerns.

Randolph asked HR Green rep Tim Cutsforth to explain the bidding process and where the difference in cost is at.

Cutsworth said that bid and the estimate compared favorably with the exception of two items which were mobilization of equipment and the cost of the 8-inch pavement.

“Those two items accounted for 97% of the overrun. I don’t want to speak for Pat, but different things that can contribute to the overrun. Maybe the amount of handwork they see having to do. If they have to do a lot of handwork that’s going to raise the cost,” Cutsforth said.

“Mobilization, that sometimes can be a catch-all. If they don’t think, for instance, they can make the schedule sometimes the contractor will put liquidated damages in that item.”

He said there was also some issues with working close to the railroad, that could have added costs.

Cutsforth said he didn’t think it was realistic to now get down to the estimated cost considering the amount of time that has passed. He said he could consider some design changes that could cut the different in half.

“I think you’re looking more at $3 million project now vs what you originally had. That’s without making major compromises to the aesthetics. It would still maintain the intent of the project.”

Councilman Matt Mohrfeld questioned HR Greens’ accuracy in bidding projects lately.

“You’re well aware of your history of engineering estimates on Fort Madison jobs, aren’t ya?” he asked Cutsforth.

HR Green was the firm that drew ire from elected officials when an estimate for the proposed renovation of sidewalks on Avenue G downtown was $1.9 million under a $3.4 million bid. Again, the city got just one bidder to do the work.

At the council’s last meeting, the City Council took another HR engineer to task for delays and some language issues that have the Avenue I bridge project held up.

Cutsforth defended his estimating projects with the city

“This is the first one that I’ve had that went over,” Cutsforth said. “All the other ones were under – one was 7% under estimate. I had one that was as high as 17% under estimate and the current Avenue L project came in 16% under project. So I guess my history in this town as far as bidding projects is pretty good.”

Randolph said the council was talking about the firm’s history in general, despite Cutsforth’s performance.

“You’re track record may be different, but we’ve had some disparity with some of the other ones, which is creating a dilemma when we’re counting on a certain number and it comes in 20% over the estimate,” Randolph said.

“We have a fiduciary responsibility to make sure we’re understanding why you’re estimate’s too low or the other end’s too high… At some point there’s a prohibitive cost value in there. If we’re $600,000 over, we’re not going to get many blocks done.”

The project is being funded through a $14 million payment to the city from the Iowa Department of Transportation, and federal Surface Transportation Block Grants.

The state turned over Business 61 through Fort Madison in exchange for $13.9 million dollars when the bypass was constructed. Plans included redoing several intersections including the 27th Street and Avenue L intersection, which was completed in 2018. Plans also included redoing the intersection at Avenue O and Ortho Road.

The city is planning on tackling the project from east to west starting with the 2nd to 6th streets portion. The portion has already been delayed due to the state historical society getting involved in the project to oversee any historical issues that may crop up during the work.

Jones said he was comfortable in being able to cut 10% of the bid, which would get the project down to $3 million, the figure that Cutsforth said would be probably be the cost going forward.

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