December 20, 2019 -- Due to an increase in estimated costs, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) will be delaying the two-year project to replace the M-13/M-84 (Lafayette Street) bascule bridge in Bay City, originally planned to begin in 2020. Construction will be delayed for an unknown period of time while MDOT Bay City Transportation Service Center (TSC) staff determines the best route moving forward to replace the bridge while still maintaining project costs.
Over the last several years, MDOT has been laying the groundwork to replace the current M-13/M-84 (Lafayette Street) bascule bridge. Originally built in 1938, extensive repairs and superstructure replacement occurred in 1989. As expected with any moveable bridge, maintenance costs are high and repairs occur more frequently than on traditional bridges. As maintenance needs continued to increase, a feasibility study was completed in 2014 to determine if a full replacement versus additional heavy maintenance would be a sounder investment. The study recommended a full replacement, with original construction estimates indicating a $45 million cost.
Because of the complex nature of the project and significant financial investment needed, MDOT determined the best means for a successful project was to package the Lafayette Street bridge design and construction as a construction manager/general contractor (CM/GC) contract. This unique approach to design and construction includes many benefits for high-stake projects. The CM/GC process allows MDOT to hire a construction contractor for review and input through the design process, leading up to construction. MDOT was fortunate to partner with a contractor specializing in construction of moveable bridges.
The CM/GC process also helps to foster innovation through the design process, improving the overall quality of the design and mitigating risks that can be identified before they reach construction and potentially impact schedules. This process also helps to control the project budget as the contractor can provide input on varying costs and alternatives during the design phase, allowing MDOT to include the most realistic cost analysis possible prior to starting construction.
While initial costs for replacement were estimated at $45.5 million, those costs have nearly doubled as the bridge design was finalized.
"About six months ago, it was looking as though our costs had increased to approximately $63 million," said Bay City TSC Manager Jack Hofweber. “To ensure that increased cost was accurate, we gathered estimates from three sources. The projections ranged from $63 million to $79 million, which resulted in our changing the size of the bridge superstructure a bit to try to reduce material costs."
The project details most closely related to the cost increase include existing timber piles that will need to be removed, steel prices (the project includes more than 7 million pounds of steel), increased foundation size (which was determined a necessity to avoid future scour concerns), and increased labor rates.
"We need an opportunity to review the project scope in light of these new figures and determine if we are truly making the best investment with our tax dollars," said MDOT Project Manager Jeff Triezenberg. "In 2014, when we estimated the replacement costs to come in at $45 million, a full replacement of the bridge was the best option. But with a potential price tag of $90 million, we may need to consider the overall foundation size of the bridge or look more seriously at a heavy maintenance fix to extend the life of this structure."
To date, MDOT has hosted several public meetings with the surrounding community to share the design process and findings of a federally required environmental assessment. During the 2019 construction season, the MDOT Bay City TSC invested $2.7 million in repairs to the M-25 (Veterans Memorial Bridge) ahead of the expected closure and detour of Lafayette Street during the two-year construction project. Improvements to other state and local roads were also completed recently to prepare those routes for increased traffic during Lafayette Street construction.
"We don't know at this time when construction will start," said Hofweber. "We've made a commitment to act in the best interest of tax dollars and the budget we have to work with, so we need an opportunity to consider other alternatives."