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Marquette Interchange contractors reunite for Zoo bid (UPDATE)

By Sean Ryan

The Zoo Interchange bridge repair attracted only one proposal because small builders cannot handle the job and three large companies teamed up for the bid.

A joint venture called Milwaukee Constructors LLC submitted the only proposal for the repair project in Milwaukee County. The three companies in the joint venture are Edward Kraemer & Sons Inc., Plain; Lunda Construction Co., Black River Falls; and Zenith Tech Inc., Waukesha.

The team is the same that formed the Marquette Constructors LLC joint venture and won three major contracts on the Marquette Interchange reconstruction.

Walsh Construction Co., Chicago, offered the only bidding competition on the Marquette job, winning two contracts.

Walsh did not submit a proposal for the Zoo Interchange.

Ryan Pheifer, project manager for Neenah-based Pheifer Brothers Construction Co. Inc., which is a bridge builder, said there is an upside the three large companies teaming up to pursue a big state contract.

“I don’t have a huge problem with it,” he said, “because I’d much rather see the work stay with our contractors in the state.”

A Wisconsin Department of Transportation panel is reviewing the construction proposal from Milwaukee Constructors and will make a decision about awarding the contract this week or next week, said Chris Klein, executive assistant to WisDOT secretary Frank Busalacchi. The project is estimated to cost between $12 million and $22 million.

Gary Ruzic, president of Ruzic Construction Co. Inc., a Neillsville-based bridge builder, said he didn’t bother to look at the Zoo Interchange repair project because his company cannot take on projects with budgets larger than $1.5 million.

But Ruzic, Pheifer and others from small bridge-building companies in the state are urging WisDOT to break bridge projects out from larger highway reconstruction jobs to be bid as separate, smaller contracts.

“It’s something we’ve been fighting for, for pretty much our entire existence,” Pheifer said.

WisDOT tried new ways to set aside smaller contracts when it rebuilt the Marquette Interchange, said Paul Trombino, WisDOT transportation system development division operations director. For example, he said, the agency bid out a separate contract for the fabrication of metal railings for bridges on the Marquette.

“When we worked on a lot of the megaprojects,” Trombino said, “we wanted to make sure that we were creating opportunities for a wide variety of firms.”

But the size of a bridge contract is dictated by the structure, he said. A bridge has three major parts — approaches, girders and deck — and all must be bid under one contract, Trombino said.

Although large projects such as the Zoo Interchange get a lot of attention, WisDOT bids out many small bridge projects that match the capacity of companies such as Pheifer and Ruzic, Trombino said.

WisDOT’s April 28 bid letting for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act projects included 16 bridge projects, and each contract was worth less than $1 million. Pheifer Brothers won two contracts, and Ruzic Construction landed three. Edward Kraemer won four, and Lunda won two.

“Our bidding situation against the big three, it’s very tough,” Ruzic said. “There’s a lot of competition.”

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