TDOT will leave Hennessee Bridge over Collins River open during construction, a duration that might now increase by a year or more.
“It was a consideration,” said TDOT spokesperson Jennifer Flynn of the closure. “But it was because of water levels and having to use a barge. None of the bidders on this project realized the water levels were less than normal and the water depth might only accommodate barges for only a few months so it is not true the contractor underbid the project.”
Flynn said environmental permits for the project require all in-stream work to be done from barges. However, due to the recent drought, the water levels in the stream are less than normal and the Corps of Engineers – regulating authority over that body of water – anticipates the required water depth for barges at this location will only be available for four to six months out of the year.
Also, water levels are subject to change in short notice of 24 hours or less when additional storage area is anticipated due to forecasted storms.
Palmertree Construction was the low bidder at $4.5 million. However, said Flynn, all the bidders would have been in the same financial boat because none of them could have known water levels would have decreased how long a barge could be used and increased the difficulty of the project.
“He was, quite simply, the low bidder on the project,” said Flynn. “There were several contractors who bid on the project.”
Lower water levels impeding the project could extend completion by a year or more and thus increase the project’s cost. The state considered closing the bridge in order to prevent a lengthy delay for the contractor and increased cost for TDOT.
“Because the contractor has no control of the water levels, and it appears they will have only a very small window to do in-stream work, it could take a significant amount of additional time, one year or more, to construct both phases of the bridge,” said Flynn. “To try to overcome this unforeseen delay, a proposal was made by TDOT to local officials to completely close the bridge to traffic, which would shave three months or so off the Oct. 31, 2018 project completion date by allowing the contractor to work on the entire bridge at one time.”
That proposal was adamantly rejected.
“Local officials opted not to do that. They instead want the contractor to maintain a one-lane bridge during construction. The officials understand that doing it this way might add an additional year to the project’s completion date,” said Flynn.
Because Palmertree Construction bid fairly and the water levels are circumstances beyond his control and unknown to him before the project was let to contract, the state will compensate him financially.
Estimated completion date was previously Oct. 31, 2018.