Steamboat Springs Routt County commissioners felt a little gravel in their throats Monday afternoon when Yampa Valley Regional Airport Manager Dave Ruppel confirmed that the lowest bid for widening and resurfacing the runway at the airport came in far higher than the estimated $13.44 million - 30.5 percent higher.
“We’re $4 million over,” commission Chairman Tim Corrigan said.
The lowest of three bidders on the project was United at $17.58 million.
“We got three conforming bids,” Ruppel told the commissioners. “The highest was about $18.5 million."
The $4 million gap between the estimate and the low bid doesn’t mean the project won’t go forward. But it likely means something will get cut, and the commissioners were already eyeing a new $3 million vehicle service road. It’s high on the wish list of the Federal Aviation Administration, but the easiest to defer to another round of grant funding.
Ruppel said the county’s consultant on the project, Jviation, pins the bulk of the overrun on the unusually high cost of gravel in the wake of last fall’s floods on Colorado’s Front Range.
“What we found was the primary issue was aggregate,” Ruppel said. “The floods on the Front Range washed away most gravel production in the Front Range – not just the gravel, but the equipment."
Corrigan and commissioner Doug Monger were skeptical about how the high cost of gravel on the Front Range would impact the Western Slope.
“How much of the $13.4 million was gravel?” Corrigan asked. “It would be one thing if $8 million of that was gravel, which I would find hard to believe. I guess on some level it feels a little convenient for someone to say, ‘Oh, the cost of gravel blew us out of the water.’”
“I’m a little disappointed with Jviation for blowing the bid this bad,” Monger said.
The project, most of which has been delayed until the spring of 2015 when the runway will be closed for 60 days, includes more than tearing up the old asphalt and replacing it while widening the runway by 50 feet. Taxiways will be widened and rehabilitated as will aprons.
Ruppel promised to get more details on the cost of gravel to be used both as road base and as a major component in asphalt on the project but added that United was very surprised at the cost of aggregate here and struggled to get a supplier.
The only gravel pit in West Routt that bid on the project was Precision east of Milner.
“This is a huge amount of gravel,” Ruppel said. “For any of the other pits in the valley, it would tie up their pits for the summer. They wouldn’t be able to do anything but supply gravel to us. United went to Connell and Elam for aggregate, and neither one gave them a bid.”
Ruppel and Jviation will consult with the FAA to see how to make the project fit available funds.
The county is required to pay only a 10 percent match on a FAA grant that would have covered the large majority of the $13.44 million estimate, with a much smaller but still significant grant from the Colorado Department of Transportation’s aeronautical division requiring a 5 percent match.
However, should the commissioners want to tackle the entire project in the current two construction seasons time frame, the airport would be on the hook for the $4 million-plus shortfall, and commissioners confirmed Monday that wasn’t going to happen.
After a preliminary conversation with the federal agency, Ruppel was hopeful the officials he is working with would go back and ask for an additional $1.7 million.
“It’s disappointing, but we still have a viable project,” Corrigan concluded.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1