The state DOT has sidetracked the American Tobacco Trail's bridge over Interstate 40.
Durham city officials were informed this morning they have to re-bid the project, because their engineer's estimate was more than $2 million below the lowest contractor's bid.
"We were trying to push it on through, but it didn't work out that way," said Ed Venable, engineering manager at the city public works department.
Last week, the long-awaited bridge, and finishing of a 4.2-mile trail segment near The Streets at Southpoint shopping mall, appeared to be on track for construction start late this year or early next.
With all the necessary permits in hand in May, Durham advertised for bids. But when they were opened July 15, the lowest was for $7.75 million. Cost estimate had been $5.65 million.
Since the money already committed for "American Tobacco Trail Phase E" would be almost enough to build the bridge, city staffers suggested delaying other projects and using that money to cover the Tobacco Trail's shortfall. Durham's City Council endorsed the idea Aug. 4 and the city issued a press release declaring that "American Tobacco Trail Phase E" was going forward.
Not so fast, said NCDOT, which is providing 80 percent of the project's financing. Since the estimate and bid were so far apart, Durham has to rewrite the bidding documents and advertise again.
Re-bidding, Venable said, means a five-month delay, with a possible construction start in spring 2012.
According to Deputy City Manager Ted Voorhees, Durham will ask DOT to allow some money-saving measures, such as accepting foreign-made steel instead of requiring American steel and permission for working in the I-40 median to simplify construction.
Venable said cost projections were so far off because of a large increase in steel prices, and the project consultants, the international Parsons Brinkerhoff firm, underestimated the labor involved.
The I-40 bridge has been on Durham's wish list since 1999. Designing, re-designing, inflation, permitting, reorganization at City Hall and other factors have repeatedly delayed the project, which will complete the 22-mile greenway between downtown Durham and New Hill in southwestern Wake County.