A second attempt to attract competitive bidding on an expensive, high-profile interchange project on Interstate 49 in Fayetteville on Wednesday failed to clearly separate itself from the one that the Arkansas Department of Transportation rejected in November.
In the end, it was the same bidder, Manhattan Road and Bridge Co. of Tulsa that submitted the lowest bid both times.
In November, Manhattan's bid was $37.8 million and the only bid submitted.
On Wednesday, the contractor priced the job at $37.6 million. It was one of two bids submitted. The other, by APAC-Central Inc. of Fayetteville, was $38.3 million. A third, Mobley Contractors Inc. of Morrilton, had an opportunity to bid but chose not to submit one.
Philip Taldo, a Arkansas Highway Commission member from Springdale, said of the two bids from Manhattan Road and Bridge that"$200,000 isn't a whole lot of difference. It could be that it's just going to cost more."
The Wedington interchange project was one of 42 projects on which the Transportation Department opened low bids totaling $110.7 million, with the interchange project far and away the most expensive.
The bid letting included 24 state highway projects with low bids worth $104.9 million, a dozen city street projects worth $3.2 million and seven county road projects worth $2.6 million. State transportation officials will review all the bids before contracts will be awarded.
Improvements for the Wedington interchange have been in the works for years, according to regional planners. It was originally identified in a 2006 Interstate 540 Improvement Study and has been part of the overall transportation plan to improve the capacity and safety of I-49 and its interchanges between Fayetteville and Bentonville.
The project is about controlling left turns on Wedington during the commute times in the morning and the afternoon when a lot of drivers are trying to turn onto I-49, according to state transportation officials. The Transportation Department has proposed a loop ramp in the southeast corner of the interchange and two dedicated lanes to get off Wedington and go north on I-49 for traffic approaching the interstate from the west.
Eastbound traffic on Wedington through the interchange no longer will have to wait for cars turning north across traffic.
The plans also show a widened overpass bridge, fewer turn signals on Wedington and a bicycle and pedestrian side path on the north side of the interchange.
The state and city jointly designed the interchange to incorporate bicycle and pedestrian improvements over I-49 as part of the project. Changes to the first draft of the plan were made for bicycles and pedestrians that will cost Fayetteville about $415,000.
The project includes raised curb medians on Wedington to restrict left turns. Drivers will be able to turn left, but they'll have to go to a traffic light.
The interstate underneath the interchange already has been widened to three lanes in each direction.
Transportation Department traffic counts done last year show 37,000 cars a day on Wedington west of the interchange and 25,000 cars a day east of the interchange.
About 9,200 cars a day use the northbound I-49 on-ramp and 3,900 use the southbound on-ramp. The southbound I-49 off-ramp has about 10,000 cars a day.
"Everybody, the city of Fayetteville, is anxious to get started on this," Taldo said. "We've been working on it a long time and everybody has put a lot of time and effort into it and really want to get a contract on it and get it going."
Other significant projects on which bids were opened Wednesday, including bid amount and low bidder:
• Resurface 10.5 miles of U.S. 71 between Arkansas 10 and Mill Creek in Sebastian County; $9.6 million; Forsgren Inc. of Fort Smith.
• Resurface 13.3 miles of Arkansas 22 east from I-540; $8.7 million; Forsgren Inc. of Fort Smith.
• A new bridge over Bayou Derriseaux on Arkansas 212 in Cleveland County; $5.8 million; Simco Inc. of North Little Rock.
• Resurface 4.85 miles of Arkansas 89 from Clinton Road east of Mayflower on Interstate 40 in Faulkner County; $1.5 million; Rogers Group Inc. of Nashville.
• Resurface 2.59 miles of Stagecoach and Colonel Glenn roads, also called Arkansas 5, from Brodie Creek to South University Avenue, also called U.S. 70; $1.1 million; Redstone Construction Group Inc. of Nashville, Tenn.