Wright County has had extremely good luck in recent years when it comes to the timing of putting projects out for bid. When it put its new Government Center out for bonds, the low bid came in $6 million under projection and many other recent projects have similarly come in under estimates.
The latest is the bid to upgrade and expand the Trailblazer Transit facility in Buffalo. The county estimated the cost of the project at $2 million. While Commissioner Darek Vetsch said that number was arrived at because of market volatility earlier this summer, the hope was that the project bid would come in about 10 percent under the projection. When it came in almost 25 percent under, the county felt like its recent hot streak of bid timing has continued to be a benefit to the county and its taxpayers.
“We bonded for $2 million,” Vetsch said. “We were kind of expecting that it might come in a little under that – somewhere around $1.8 million – so we were very happy to see it at $1.55 million. Any time a project can come in about 25 percent under budget, you have to be happy about that.”
As the bonding process began, there were no guarantees that the price would come in under budget. In the up-and-down world of bidding out projects, COVID-19 has created a climate of rising and lowering prices, which made the timing of the Trailblazer project so important.
“Right now, there has been a cycle with these projects that has been happening during the pandemic,” Vetsch said. “Some of the projects are coming in way over what was expected and others are coming in way under. I think the pendulum had kind of swung back on this. Back in March when COVID first hit, almost all big projects saw bids coming in high. In April and May, it came into an unknown where there wasn’t a lot of consistency, but most were still coming in high. Now we’ve seen the bids coming back in lower because there aren’t a whole lot of new projects that are being put out in the short-term and these companies want to be sure that they land a project before the end of the construction season.”
The Trailblazer project is going to start later this month with substantial completion expected by the end of the year. It also marks a slowdown of county bonding projects, which have been somewhat controversial over the last few years. However, millions of dollars have been saved in that span due as much to the luck of the timing of the bid packages and the available bond rates as anything else.
The county’s hot streak on bids isn’t something that could have been predicted with any level of certainty, but knowing when to put out bids has been an inexact science that the county has taken advantage of.
“The funny thing about bidding out projects is you never fully know what you’re going to get,” Vetsch said. “You hope for the best and try to time them out at a time of year when bids are historically good, but you still never know. We’ve been very fortunate that we got a good big on the Justice Center, a great bid on the new Government Center and some very good bids for the smaller projects we’ve done over the last couple of years. To come in 25 percent under estimate is something we didn’t expect and are very pleased with.”