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WisDOT bid likely to attract big contractors

Sean Ryan
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As the Wisconsin Department of Transportation begins a three-month effort to bid its stimulus projects, pavers predict a few large contractors will get the bulk of the work.

The $300 million in stimulus contracts for state highways include 1.1 million square yards of concrete paving, but two contracts to reconstruct Interstate 94 will account for more than half of it, said Kevin McMullen, president of the Wisconsin Concrete Pavement Association.

The reconstruction of I-94 from Madison to Dane County Highway N includes 425,000 square yards of pavement, and a contract for part of the reconstruction of I-94’s north-south corridor includes 263,000 square yards.

Smaller contractors anticipate large pavers will get those two jobs, McMullen said. So the smaller pavers’ hope is Wisconsin contractors get the contracts, fill their plates and stop bidding on small local projects.

“It’s hard to be critical of the department because they did put out (to bid) 1.1 million square yards,” McMullen said. “But I’m being honest that these jobs are not impacting the majority of the industry.”

WisDOT on Tuesday released its first of three requests for bids for stimulus projects. WisDOT in 2008 let $792 million in contracts, and was anticipating at least $870 million in contracts this year before stimulus came along. The stimulus will add $300 million in state projects and $42 million in local projects.

“It’ll be by far and away the largest construction season Wisconsin has ever seen,” said WisDOT Executive Assistant Christopher Klein. “Our normal construction let would’ve been the largest let Wisconsin’s ever seen. Now we’re adding another $350 million.”

Ptaschinski Construction Inc., Beaver Dam, is too small to go after the two big contracts, said Tom Ptaschinski, construction manager and owner. He said it would help if the federal stimulus rules would allow money to be spent on smaller municipal projects.

“It’s not spread out over a lot of projects,” he said. “We’re glad to have work either way, but if it was on a bunch of smaller jobs, I think you’d have the ability to put more people to work.”

Most of the work done in 2009 will be grading, and Ptaschinski estimates a lot of the concrete paving won’t begin until next year. He said he hopes the local bidding market opens up next year because large contractors will be focused on WisDOT jobs instead of municipal projects.

“Some of that is going to help somewhat, but it’s not going to be the cure-all everybody thinks it will be,” he said.

McMullen said the $42 million in local stimulus projects didn’t include much concrete paving work. He said WisDOT could spread the wealth more by including smaller concrete projects in its list of state jobs.

“That would’ve been the best of both worlds,” he said. “I understand there’s always going to be a need for big projects, but under stimulus, if they could’ve brought in maybe 10 jobs of under 20,000 yards, they could’ve spread the wealth a lot more.”


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