April 25, 2014

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Contractor will get $5,000-a-day bonus for completing the work early

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Traffic snarls in and around Williston are already bad and likely to grow worse when a paving project starts this summer on Interstate 89.

But the state Agency of Transportation is trying to limit tie-ups by employing a seldom-used contract provision that includes both penalties and incentives to get the work done quickly.

The project scheduled to start next month includes repaving the pothole-pocked southbound lanes of I-89 from South Burlington to Bolton and making improvements to both the Shelburne Road and Williston exits. The work is expected to start next month.

Penalties for completing work late are routine on major construction projects. But for the first time in recent years, the state will also award a bonus if the paving is done early. The amount is substantial whether the project is finished late or early: $5,000 a day, up to a total of $75,000.

“This way we have both a carrot and a hammer ready,” said Mike Hedges, paving program manager with the state Agency of Transportation. “These are already very busy portions of the project. We’d like them to be done in a timely manner.”

The incentive/penalty clause sets a 30-day deadline to complete work between exits 12 and 13. That portion of the project includes paving the interstate itself, lengthening deceleration lanes and adding a left-turn lane on the southbound Williston off-ramp.

The clause does not apply to paving work south of exit 12 in Williston. That part of the project must be completed by Oct. 15. The contractor will pay a $3,500-a-day penalty if it does not meet that deadline, but there is no bonus for completing it earlier.

Two contractors have submitted bids for the work. According to Hedges, Frank W. Whitcomb Construction Corp. bid $4,583,007 for the project; Pike Industries Inc. bid $4,879,724. As of Tuesday afternoon, state officials were still reviewing the two bids and had yet to officially award the contract to Whitcomb Construction, the apparent low bidder.

Jay Perkins, regional manager with Pike Industries, said the state rarely hands out bonuses for completing paving projects early.

“Usually, it’s 100 percent the stick,” he said. “Only very infrequently do you get the carrot.”

Perkins said bonuses are a good idea. He thinks they help both contractors and the general public, reducing traffic headaches for motorists and allowing contractors to better marshal manpower and work more quickly.

For example, Perkins said, a contracting company may bring in an additional 10 trucks at a cost of $2,000 a day if it can earn a bonus equal or greater than that amount for each day the project is done early. With a contract that has only late penalties, he said, the contractor tends to try to keep costs as low as possible.

“I think they should utilize (bonuses) more often,” Perkins said. “The inconvenience to the traveling public should have a dollar value put on it.”

Hedges said the state last used an incentive clause for paving work in 1999. Three years earlier, the state employed an incentive for the paving job on the same stretch of Interstate 89 that is being redone this summer.

That pavement’s lifespan was far shorter than the expected 15-20 years. But Hedges said a new type of pavement — not the contractor or the contract — was the reason for its premature failure.

The repaving project as originally planned did not include work on the Williston exit. But at the urging of town officials and residents, the state decided to add the Williston off-ramp work to the project.

Many people have expressed safety concerns about the ramp. Vehicles sometimes back up at the interchange and spill out on to the traveled portion of I-89, creating a traffic hazard as cars whiz by the halted traffic at 65 mph.

The penalties and incentives to get the repaving done quickly are just one of the steps the state is taking to reduce traffic tie-ups while the project is underway.

No lane closures are permitted between South Burlington and Williston during rush hours, 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and again between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. The requirement is somewhat less stringent on less-traveled portions of the project, with both lanes required to remain open only from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

As with other paving projects, the state is also trying to ensure the contractor does a high-quality job. There are also incentives and/or penalties that address the quality and consistency of the asphalt as well as the smoothness of the finished job.

Hedges said the state would continue to use both bonuses and penalties on projects where there is heavy traffic and a potential for traffic tie-ups. With traffic volume increasing each year throughout the state, he said the use of incentives is only likely to increase in the future.

“With the incentives, we hope to stay out of people’s way,” Hedges said. “We want to get in, get out and stay out.”

Andrew Bassette of Richmond suggested officials install a second Williston off-ramp to give shoppers, which make up the majority of motorists, a chance to exit sooner. Having an exit at South Brownell Road, for example, would lessen the amount of cars getting off at exit 12, he said.

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