South Gloster work: One bid, too big

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Already plagued by red tape and delays, the South Gloster Street widening project hit another stumbling block Tuesday when its sole bidder exceeded construction estimates by more than 50 percent.
Now the taxpayer-funded group responsible for the project, the Major Thoroughfare Program Committee, could be forced to scrap the bid and start the process anew.
“It’s another speed bump,” said committee Chairman Greg Pirkle, “but we’ll get around it.”
It’s all moot, of course, unless the program wins enough public support to continue past its current five-year phase. City residents vote May 3 on whether to extend the program and the 10-mill property tax that funds it.
If the proposal doesn’t pass, the MTP will end when its ongoing projects are finished. And new projects, like South Gloster, will get shelved.
But because committee members expect a successful vote, they proceeded to solicit bids for the project, which was supposed to have been completed in the current phase.
APAC of Mississippi this week submitted a price of $6.5 million to complete the project, which will add a fifth lane to Gloster from Garfield Street to the new Highway 6 near South Green Street extended.
The bid was opened Tuesday morning at City Hall.
Because it exceeds the original estimate of $4.3 million by more than 10 percent, the Mississippi Department of Transportation might not accept the bid.
Typically, MDOT wouldn’t have authority to reject bids on city-funded work. But in this case, the state agency is acting as a pass-through for $1.6 million in federal dollars allocated to the project. And federal guidelines require construction costs not to surpass 10 percent of original estimates.
“If you’ve got several bidders and everybody is over, that’s one thing, but with just one bidder and it being that much over, it doesn’t look good,” said Bill Jamieson, MDOT district engineer.
Six companies had obtained bid packets when the committee announced it was seeking contractors. Ultimately, though, only APAC submitted a bid.
Strict federal requirements tacked onto the project likely drove away most of companies, said MTP engineer Jim Epps of Cook Coggin Engineers. Among the big turnoffs, he said, were no fuel-cost adjustments and no stored materials.
Fuel-cost adjustments allow companies to base estimates on current fuel prices but slide them up and down as the market fluctuates. Without that flexibility, companies must try to predict what fuel costs will be throughout the duration the project.
The Gloster Street project will take about one year to complete.
The ban on stored materials prohibits companies from recouping the up-front costs of purchasing construction items like pipes. Typically, companies buy in bulk to get better deals, then charge the city immediately afterward. In the case of South Gloster, the materials couldn’t be charged to the city until they were put to use – regardless of when they were purchased.
Epps will meet with MDOT this week to review the bid and decide how to proceed. If the agency rejects the bid, it’s unclear what factors must change to encourage lower bids.

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@journalinc.com.