WatchSonoma Watch

Low bids for 101 project yield unexpected savings


The low bid for the latest Highway 101 widening project is more than a third less than engineers’ estimates, a recession-era trend that will save Sonoma County $56 million in anticipated costs for work from Windsor to Petaluma.

“You have a lot of contractors who are trying to get the limited amount of work there is out there, and they are sharpening their pencils to a degree that we have not seen before,” said Suzanne Smith, executive director of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority.

The bidding environment is being closely watched by the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District, which is about to seek bids on $314 million of work for an commute line from Santa Rosa to San Rafael.

“I assume the bidding will be very competitive, and it would not surprise me a bit if it came in under,” said county Supervisor Valerie Brown, chairwoman of the SMART board.

The bids for freeway work were opened April 19. Ghilotti Construction of Santa Rosa was the low bidder at $10.6 million to widen Highway 101 from Pepper Road to Old Redwood Highway in Petaluma, about 36 percent less than the engineer’s estimate of $17 million.

Ghilotti also was the low bidder on work now underway to widen the freeway from Rohnert Park Expressway to Pepper Road. The $48.8 million bid was about 37 percent less than that $77.6 million estimate.

Two previous projects to widen the freeway from Santa Rosa to Windsor and from Santa Rosa to the Rohnert Park Expressway also were under budget. The work was estimated to cost $139.7 million but came in at $105.7 million.

Tom Smith, chief estimator for Ghilotti Construction, said contractors are offering discounted pricing because of the tough market.

“Every contractor has to make their own decision on what they need to stay in business, how much money a job is worth to them,” Smith said. “It is a very fine line.”

The lower highway construction bids allow Sonoma County to stretch what it can accomplish with its transportation sales tax and state funding the tax leverages.

The county is now able to go out to bid on freeway interchanges at Airport Boulevard in Santa Rosa and at Old Redwood Highway in Petaluma, each estimated at $41 million.

Sonoma County also is fast-tracking its effort to rebuild three of the four Highway 101 bridges over the Petaluma River, a $90 million project.

The bridges are part of the Sonoma-Marin Narrows widening that is still $300 million short and years from completion.

The rail agency hopes for savings when seeks bids within the next few weeks, but given the specialized nature of rail work, the question is how much.

The project includes reconstruction of 37 miles of track from Railroad Square in Santa Rosa to downtown San Rafael and building seven stations, a maintenance facility and a pedestrian-bike path. The work is budgeted for $314 million.

Nine contractors, with groups of consultants and subcontractors, have been pre-qualified for the work.

“It really is a crapshoot,” said consultant Dave Anderson of American Rail, who has overseen rail work on the line for the North Coast Railroad Authority and is also involved in companies that may be bidding on the SMART work.

“I know a couple of the design-build teams are very hungry, which is good,” he said. “It may help SMART, but this is specialized work.”

14 Responses to “Low bids for 101 project yield unexpected savings”

  1. Tim says:

    “Let’s fund a pedestrian/bicycle overpass with the savings, and build the SMART line to Windsor. That’s about how much money it would take to do the SRJC/Coddingtown overpass and SMART from RRSQ to Windsor.”

    The system isn’t designed for road taxes to pay for bicycle pathways. The cost to motorists for these bike lanes isn’t cost efficient. Take a bike lane designated for bikes, include the paint markingss, it costs us who pay the tax $110.00 a ton per ton of asphalt used to construct the bike lane. Add up a mile of bike lane, averages 5 foot wide, that’s $212,500.00 we pay for your bikes to use our taxes. I don’t ride a bike and I don’t care about your bikes. You are part of the reason the public system is going broke.

  2. john bly says:

    @ john myerson-all of the workers on public works jobs are subject to certified payroll. so unless the worker and the company are able to get away with lying (which would be a federal crime when fed money is involved), they are paying the correct wages. your claim sir, is that these are “illegals” and that is why the bids are so cheap. because workers stay in a motel makes them, in your mind, “illegals” and they are making less than they should? not speaking good english does not make someone “illegal”.

  3. John Myerson says:

    @ Bly try staying at the days inn in Santa Rosa and watch them come in and ask them what they are working on I did. the foreman usually speak English, they ship these crews in for short periods and the there gone I watched with my own eyes voters should be damn mad. and you should look into facts before you toot conclusions they also stay at good night inn and extended stay. you notice these things when you have been in general construction 30 years now hungry and living in motel because the illegals got the jobs

  4. john bly says:

    @ John Myerson-Your comments concern me because you have several thumbs up from voters that must believe what you are claiming is true. What you posted here is not true.

  5. BigDogatPlay says:

    @ Phil Maher… didn’t think you were indicting. I just believe that if we all are going to debate that it’s worthwhile to have a good set of information on the table. 8=)

    It was indeed a large project to do that one bridge with the 500+ feet of “runup” ramp to allow cars merging on to get up to freeway speed. We’ll likely see something similar on the northbound side, I’d guess. The high bridges over the river itself are exactly two lanes wide and it’s going to be really cool (to me anyway) to see how the engineering is going to solve for that.

  6. John Myerson says:

    that is because there are big crews os illegals doing the work instead of Americans they stay at the hotels they can not speak English they build the walls do cement all the subs are using them it is horrible for American citizen to go hungry why these subs give the work away that is meant for Americans

  7. Phil Maher says:

    Thanks for the point of clarification, Big Dog-

    I wasn’t offering an indictment, just wondering what the previous project entailed. Seemed massive and all encompassing at the time, but then again, I’m rarely down there.

  8. john bly says:

    Kudos to those hard working construction workers that risk their lives every day to keep our roads and bridges in good shape. And thank you to the owners of those construction companies that are working for wages (if they are lucky) these days, and yet are still generous enough to dig deep into their pockets to keep funding the community through charitable contributions, while keeping people working so their wages can be used to support local businesses. And by the way-Mark West Quarry just went 100% solar-1st quarry in the world to do it!

  9. BigDogatPlay says:

    That contractors are finding ways to control costs on government funded work is a great thing. Especially for this work that should have been done 30 years ago at far less cost than even the low bids now.

    Only one of the four bridges at Petaluma River has been effectively widened. The remaining three will all require major work. It is not simply matter of repainting lines.

  10. Phil Maher says:

    “Sonoma County also is fast-tracking its effort to rebuild three of the four Highway 101 bridges over the Petaluma River, a $90 million project.”

    So what exactly did they do when they were working on it several years ago? Paint a few lines and it seems plenty wide enough for three lanes to me.

  11. Common Sense says:

    Since when does any construction NOT go over budget! Let’s not waste the savings on other unaffordable projects! We need to first fill the potholes and keep the lights on in this county.

  12. Pearl Alquileres says:

    Let’s not start “counting chickens” just yet.

  13. John Galt says:

    I think you’re a bit optimistic, Conservation Action. According to SMART’s estimates, it will cost $55 million to take the rail and trail from Downtown SR to Windsor. Of course, recent studies have shown that costs are at least 18% higher than estimated, so that realistically would be $64.9 million on the cost.

    Sorry… no bike bridge funding there.

    And to be quite honest, the idea of using that money for a boondoggle like the SMART train is almost as silly as NOT using it to expand/continue/accelerate the freeway widening. After all… what good is a half-finished transportation project?

    Oh, wait. We’d also have to buy more trains… and subsidize the operation of the train to the tune of a couple million a year.

    Yikes- this “SMART” transportation is awfully expensive… and adding the two stations would yield an additional ridership of…. wait for it….. about 650 daily riders. Not a bad deal- $65 million for 650 daily riders… that’s only $100,000 per expected rider!

    But hey- it’s only taxpayer money, right?

  14. Conservation Action says:

    Let’s fund a pedestrian/bicycle overpass with the savings, and build the SMART line to Windsor. That’s about how much money it would take to do the SRJC/Coddingtown overpass and SMART from RRSQ to Windsor.