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Monroe Street construction

A crosswalk at the intersection of Monroe Street and Knickerbocker Street, looking east. Bids for the planned Monroe Street reconstruction have come in at least $3 million over the $15.7 million estimate.

To the dismay of Madison officials, bids for the long-planned Monroe Street reconstruction project have come in a whopping $3 million to $9 million over the $15.7 million city estimate, likely meaning more spending or changes and delays.

The project, slated to start in March 2018 and end by November 2018, involves replacing decades-old utility lines, improving pedestrian safety, and repaving cracked and crumbled blacktop along the busy street.

The full cost is estimated at $17.1 million, with the Engineering Division estimate of $15.7 million for construction and the rest for contingency and city staff time, labor and materials.

Three construction bids were opened Thursday, with the lowest from Speedway Sand & Gravel of Middleton at $18.65 million. R.G. Huston bid $23.9 million, and Parisi Construction $25 million, city engineer Rob Phillips said.

“It was a surprise,” Phillips said, adding that bids were more spread out than usual.

The project, he said, has complexities that make it unattractive to bidders, including keeping the street open to traffic during construction, a tight corridor, and taking steps to ensure businesses stay open.

The bids leave the city with tough choices, including a budget amendment requiring a City Council supermajority of 15 of 20 votes to cover the low bid or rebidding the project, which would mean reducing the scope of the project and allowing time for public input and decisions by policymakers.

“It can’t be done in a vacuum,” Phillips said.

It’s unclear how long the project would be delayed if it were rebid, he said.

Ald. Sara Eskrich, 13th District, who represents the area and pushed for the project, remained hopeful.

“We have been experiencing high bids for many city projects over the past few years,” she said. “City staff will work to find efficiencies and make recommendations to move forward a project that meets the needs of the city and the constraints of our budget. Monroe reconstruction must go on.”

Under current plans, a full reconstruction, which includes repaving, utility work and replacing sidewalks and curbs, will happen from Regent Street to Leonard Street.

From Leonard Street to the junction of Odana and Nakoma roads, only the pavement and utility lines will be replaced.

A major component of the project is increasing pedestrian safety, as business districts and Edgewood High School and Edgewood College are situated along the stretch.

The plan calls for raising the grade at four Monroe Street intersections — Harrison, Leonard, Knickerbocker and Glenway streets — to act as a traffic calming method. Crosswalks at these locations will also be colored to make them stand out.

In the business districts, overhead utility lines are slated to be put underground, shorter street lights installed and coin-operated parking meters switched over to electronic parking terminals that are common Downtown.

The entire sanitary sewer on Monroe Street, parts of which are 112 years old, would be replaced, along with much of the water main and the storm sewer where it’s necessary.

“We want to go through the bids carefully and look at the numbers,” Phillips said.

The city has recently had some disappointing bid openings.

On Dec. 15, the city learned that construction bids for a proposed Fire Station No. 14 on the Southeast Side came in $600,000 to $1 million over the estimated $5.8 million cost.

Miron Construction Co. had the low bid, $6.39 million, while Joe Daniels Construction came in at $6.71 million, and Ideal Builders at $6.85 million for the project in the 3100 block of Dairy Drive.

After meeting with Mayor Paul Soglin and others, the Fire Department will explore cost savings on items that exceeded estimates and lower the city’s contingency fund by $250,000, shift about $350,000 from other projects, and perhaps delay some capital purchases for the station such as furniture and equipment, Assistant Fire Chief Clay Christenson said Thursday.

The staff recommendation still must be reviewed by city committees and approved by the City Council.

Earlier this year, the city cut back some work and rebid construction work on the landmark Madison Municipal Building after receiving initial bids of $29.6 million from Miron Construction and $32 million from Tri-North Builders, which were roughly 50 percent higher than estimates. The city had budgeted $20.3 million for construction, with $10 million more for design fees, city staff time and environmental remediation.

The two-year, $30 million Municipal Building renovation is now well underway.

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Dean Mosiman covers Madison city government for the Wisconsin State Journal.