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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 7, 2010

Lean times bring lower bids

Advertiser Staff

Two major highway improvement projects have been put out to bid, and the state hopes to pick up where it left off in 2009 with a bargain on their construction costs.

The state saved millions of dollars last year as dozens of transportation projects came in under expected costs.

Bids for some projects have come in at less than 50 percent of what was anticipated, according to a list provided by the state Department of Transportation.

The sagging Hawai'i economy, which tanked in 2008 and has been slow to rebound, has left a lot of construction workers without jobs and the larger construction companies hungry for work, said state Transportation Director Brennon Morioka.

The result has been overall bids on state DOT projects that averaged about 60 to 70 percent of estimated construction costs, he said.

Yesterday, Morioka announced the Highways Division's request for bids on a project to install an out-bound, afternoon contraflow lane on the H-1 Freeway through the 'Aiea-Pearl City corridor, as well as construction of another segment of the so-called Lahaina bypass highway.

Construction costs for the contraflow project, which includes repairs to the aging Pearl City and Waimalu H-1 Freeway viaducts, have been pegged at about $75 million. About 90 percent of that will be paid with federal money.

The cost to build the 1.7-mile, phase 1B-1, segment of the Honoa-pi'ilani Realignment Project, more commonly known as the Lahaina Bypass, has been estimated at about $50 million. Federal money is expected to cover about 80 percent of that cost.

"As little as two years ago, as few as two firms might bid on projects like these," Morioka said. "Today, with much greater competition, we expect four, five or six companies to bid on the projects."

Morioka said there are six to eight companies operating in the state that have the financial strength and resources needed to take on one or both projects.

The afternoon contraflow lane is designed to improve west-bound traffic by employing a moveable barrier system, similar to the ZipperLane used during morning peak traffic hours from Waikele to Honolulu International Airport.

And phase 1 B-1 of the Lahaina Bypass Road on Maui is the second of five planned phases, which, when completed, will provide an alternative route around Lahaina town, Morioka said.

The phase being put out to bid will extend from Lahainaluna Road, connecting with the ongoing work on Phase 1A, and south to Hokiokio Place.

"These projects will help improve the quality of life for thousands of motorists each day, getting them through traffic and home to their families faster than ever before," Morioka said.

The two projects will also help stimulate Hawai'i's economy, with each $1 million spent expected to create 12 or 13 new jobs, he said.

"That's money that will trickle down not just to contractors and construction workers, but to equipment operators, suppliers, delivery people, architects, various subcontractors and so on," Morioka said.

Eventually, the economic benefit will move beyond the construction industry "and help out everybody else as well," Morioka said.

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