NEW TAMPA — Four years ago, during the real estate boom, road engineers said that widening part of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard could cost $72 million.
A slumping economy has changed all that.
Last week, Hillsborough County commissioners awarded the job to the lowest bidder: Kamminga & Roodvoets, a Tampa construction company that said it could do the work for $40.5 million — $31 million less than what the county had set aside for the project.
The extra cash means the county may be able to move money toward other projects, such as the widening of a southern stretch of Bruce B. Downs that is still unfunded.
"That's a pretty darn good return on our investment," said Steve Valdez, manager for the county's Public Works Department.
The recently awarded bid covers Stage 2 of a four-part widening plan for Bruce B. Downs, a thoroughfare that engineers estimate will see 70,000 car trips a day by the year 2028.
During Stage 2, crews will transform Bruce B. Downs from four lanes to eight between Palm Springs Boulevard and Pebble Creek Drive. It is slated to begin early next year and will take 24 months to complete, Valdez said.
The highest bid came in at $50 million — still far below the original estimate of $72 million.
Public works officials attribute the lower bids to several factors, including a lack of available work and companies' willingness to lower the cost of their supplies and labor in order to gain business.
Whatever the reason, at least one resident was thrilled to learn that the project was getting off the ground.
"It is going to be a blessing for a lot of people in that area," said Michael Masem, a Pebble Creek resident who drives past that stretch of road to get to his job at the University of South Florida each day. "During rush hour, it's like a parking lot."
Masem said it can take him 20 to 30 minutes to move 2 miles.
While residents celebrated the news, at least one business owner had mixed feelings.
Tim Chan wonders what effect construction will have on his restaurant, Sushi Ko, at Bruce B. Downs and New Tampa Boulevard.
"There are pluses and minuses," Chan said. "During construction, I wonder what will happen. The good thing is, after construction, I hope things will be easier and cars can get to businesses easier."
The project will not begin until after the busy holiday season so that traffic flow will not be disrupted for shoppers heading to the shops along Bruce B. Downs.
The county plans to hold a public meeting in January to alert residents of the plans. Work will begin shortly after that, Valdez said.
Once the project is complete, it should ease congestion for cars traveling to and from Interstate 75 and the West Meadows/Cross Creek area and beyond.
There is more work to be done, though. Bruce B. Downs stretches from Bearss Avenue north to State Road 54 in Pasco County.
Stage 1 in Pasco, from County Line Road to SR 54, is under way. The cost estimates for Stage 3 (from Pebble Creek Drive to County Line Road) and Stage 4 (from Bearss Avenue to Palm Springs Boulevard) will not change, Valdez said. Stage 4, estimated to cost $105 million, is still unfunded, but the savings from the Stage 2 project may be applied toward it, he said. Stage 3 is estimated to cost $35 million.
But just how much the economy will affect the actual costs of completing Stages 3 and 4 remains to be seen.
The bids "that come in will be interesting," Valdez said.
Hillsborough commissioners hope to put a 1-cent sales tax referendum on the November 2010 ballot. The tax, if approved by voters, would generate money for a light rail system as well as other projects, including possibly directing $58.2 million toward the widening of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.
To have about four years elapse between the engineers' estimate and the bidding process is not out of the ordinary, Valdez said, because county officials were still designing plans and buying land.
"The competitive construction market right now is a great time to start this project," said Bob Gordon, director of the Public Works Department. "Prices are at a historic low, and this will provide an economic stimulus and jobs for our community."
Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at (813) 909-4613 or [email protected]