Bids for federally supported highway projects in Oregon have been coming in so low, it is freeing up millions of dollars for additional projects.
Earlier this year, the Oregon Transportation Commission allotted $234 million in economic-recovery dollars to various state projects. But now, bids are coming in lower than initially expected, by about 19 percent.
That means the state has $43 million left to work with to help fund state transportation needs.
The savings come at a cost, however. Contractors say they’ve been forced to underbid just to win any contracts.
“Contractors are trying to keep their core group of people working,” Sandy Trainor, the president and owner of Kodiak Pacific Construction in Sherwood, told the Statesman Journal in Salem. “What they are doing is coming in below cost to get work. I have seen repeatedly that with the bidding we have done over the past eight months, we’ve had pricing come in as much as 30 percent below my actual costs.”
The commission has already decided where it will use the extra cash. About $1.3 million will go to a few projects that actually came in above cost. Another $4.6 million will go to enhance other projects.
“The commission put a priority on doing extra work on projects already out there, picking projects that can produce jobs quickly,” said Patrick Cooney, a spokesman for Department of Transportation.
About $2 million will go toward developing the nation’s first “solar highway” project, which generates about one-third of the electric power required for highway lighting currently.
The bulk of the savings, $35 million, will be spent to buy trains for the Amtrak run between Portland and Eugene.
Currently, Oregon is using trains owned by Washington state on the route. Now Washington wants them back for an expanded service between Portland and Vancouver, British Columbia.
“There’s not a lot of used equipment out there,” said Kelly Taylor, administrator of ODOT’s Rail Division.