With an estimated $45 million price tag, the flyover project connecting U.S. 278 with Bluffton Parkway is one of largest of Beaufort County’s recent highway undertakings.
The flyover design includes an elevated road that crosses a four-lane highway and several hundred feet of marsh between The Gatherings and Buckingham Landing near the bridge to Hilton Head Island.
Like other bridge projects, this one will require a lot of concrete, asphalt, steel, gasoline and other commodities whose prices can increase without warning. Engineering challenges associated with laying bridge supports in soft pluff mud might also await.
Nonetheless, Rob McFee, the county’s engineering director, is confident the project can be done on budget. He said the county has adopted safeguards to keep construction within cost estimates.
“We are looking pretty good at this point,” McFee said.
SOME HAVE DOUBTS
Others aren’t so optimistic.
The project has drawn comparisons, based on scope and price, to the construction of a second J.E. McTeer Bridge span in 2010-11. That project, which linked Lady’s Island and Port Royal Island along S.C. 802, has been criticized for cost overruns, mismanagement and faulty planning.
Given that history, Beaufort County Councilman Steve Baer said he’s “not fully comfortable” there are sufficient controls in place to keep the flyover on target.
“I feel we have to redouble our attention to overruns, change-orders, engineering issues and all of those things that affected the (S.C.) 802 projects,” he said.
McFee said the numbers tell the story.
County documents show the bridge cost $36.6 million to build, about $1.7 million more than the contractor’s bid.
The total project cost — which includes design, permitting and construction — was about $44 million.
McFee acknowledged construction costs surpassed the initial bid on the McTeer project, but only by about 6 percent. He said some critics are mistakenly lumping construction costs with total project costs and claiming a massive overrun.
“I haven’t built a project yet that I haven’t learned things,” McFee said. “But as far as any macro-lessons learned on the 802 bridge, I would say that contract went very well.”
CONTROLLING THE FLYOVER
The flyover would start at Bluffton Parkway’s intersection with Buckingham Plantation Drive and extend over the marsh. Ramps would connect east and west lanes of U.S. 278 to the parkway.
The county has identified R.R. Dawson Bridge Co. of Lexington, Ky., as the low-bidder, at $36.7 million.
Beaufort County expects to award the contract soon, and construction could start this year. The work is expected to take between 24 and 30 months.
County staff said measures are in place to prevent overruns, though some materials likely won’t be purchased until 2015 or later.The contractor should have factored in rising material costs when submitting the bid, McFee said.
Other reasons for optimism: County staff is confident in the flyover design and has opted to hire a proven construction management firm, which will work to prevent cost overruns. A good design, staff says, can save money over the course of the project. The county also has faith in the contractor, McFee said.
“R.R. Dawson has a very strong reputation and has done a lot of work with S.C. Department of Transportation,” he said, including a recent project in Horry County.
Contractors also must prove that change orders and other issues requiring extra money are truly unforeseen.
The county also has set aside $4 million within the $45 million budget for unexpected hiccups.
‘A CAREFUL HAMMER’
Baer isn’t the only county councilman with an eye on the bottom line.
“I am very concerned that there is the potential for overruns,” Councilman Brian Flewelling said. “We are going to have to pay very close attention so ... that we get the services we pay for without overruns.”
Baer, who said issues with the S.C. 802 project slipped by him, believes there will be extra scrutiny on the flyover.
“We took the hammer, and we hit our thumbs on (the McTeer Bridge) and related projects,” he said. “I think we are going to be a little more careful with the hammer this time. We are all a little hypersensitive (about keeping) projects from running away from us.”
Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/IPBG_Casey.