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Fargo's 32nd Avenue project remains up in the air as 2nd-round bids come in high

Two contractors offered bids, but both were much higher than engineers' estimates.

Cars and a motorcycle drive down an uneven stretch of road.
Traffic approaches a rough section of pavement June 13, 2022, on the 1800 block of 32nd Avenue South in Fargo.
Michael Vosburg / The Forum
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FARGO — One of the busiest and bumpiest roads for Fargo motorists may not see reconstruction work start this year after all.

The city decided to rebid the blocks-long 32nd Avenue South project that will run in front of Essentia Health, Sanford's Southpointe Clinic and numerous businesses after a February opening had bids come in more than 40% above engineer's estimates, which caused them to be thrown out under state law.

The law prohibits projects from being awarded that are 40% over estimates or higher because of special assessments involved for residents and businesses.

The situation wasn't much better last Friday, June 10, when the city opened the new bids for work to start this summer and continue into 2023. Two of the three same contractors submitted proposals to work on the stretch from near 22nd Street by the Sanford Clinic to the west, where it would connect with the already rebuilt stretch of the avenue near Interstate 29.

City Engineer Brenda Derrig told The Forum that the bids were within the legal limit but still much higher than engineer's estimates.

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Whether the City Commission accepts the low bid at their next meeting on June 27 or not, Public Works Director Ben Dow said in an interview they will not leave motorists having to navigate the potholes and other bad stretches of the avenue.

The city has already been working on the potholes, he said, but if the project bid is not awarded, they will do some major repaving of the worst lanes this summer.

"We're not going to leave it like it is," he said. "We'll first see what the commissioners want to do."

The engineering department, in hopes of acceptable new bids, was offering contractors a wider work zone, reducing their risks and safety issues with temporary detours, saving boulevard trees and allowing for equipment and material storage within the narrow right of way.

They city also offered to allow work to be done in phases with only one phase this year, from 22nd Street to just past 25th Street, and two other phases progressing to the west next year.

Despite the changes, the bids for the three phases were higher than the low bid of $16.6 million last winter, Derrig said.

A city staff committee will study the bids and take a look at finances to see what can be done, she said. Her department will then bring the bids before the City Commission on June 27 for the decision on whether to go ahead with the more expensive project or postpone it again.

"We're going to be looking at all of our options," Derrig said.

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She said the higher-than-anticipated bids would likely affect the city's share of project, which could take away from others by consuming a larger chunk of city sales tax money that is used for street and infrastructure work.

After the February bids, contractors told the city in a special meeting that their more expensive proposals were caused by labor and material shortages as well as inflation, with one contractor saying, on average, their costs were up 30% to 40% from last year.

The issues the city could control were project scheduling, safety in the work zone and time of bid letting.

The work zone is a major issue, as a standard arterial roadway has a right of way of about 200 feet. The city has only 100 feet on the avenue. Thus, there was a lack of room for an on-site staging area within the right of way, causing safety concerns for workers and motorists.

Federal money has been awarded for this year as well as in 2024 for another stretch of the roadway from 22nd Street east to University Drive.

The federal money for the project needs to be awarded by November or the city could lose the aid.

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