Cimarron/I-25 budget up $20M, Fillmore $2M amid rising statewide contractor costs Fillmore start date pushed back as a result

       While the actual work is not in jeopardy, state and local officials have been scrambling this fall to rearrange funding and schedules for the Fillmore and Cimarron freeway interchanges as the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) comes to grips with a dramatic rise in contractor costs.
       The first local sign was in September, when the low bid for a replacement interchange at Fillmore/I-25 came in about $2 million above CDOT's $13 million budget. The effort to find the extra money has since pushed the project start date - previously pegged at October - back to at least January.
       The Cimarron/I-25 problem surfaced at the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments (PPACG) monthly board meeting in October, when CDOT Region 2 Director Karen Rowe revealed that the project - budgeted at $95 million - would likely cost 20 percent more when it's bid out in 2015.

In a photo shot last August, emergency crews attend to an accident on the northbound side of I-25 above Cimarron Street. The half-century-old interchange and its ramps are to be replaced, in large part for safety reasons, but the project budget has risen by $20 million.
Westside Pioneer photo

       At its November meeting, the PPACG board approved a CDOT-proposed plan that adds $20 million more to the Cimarron budget. The money will come from state “regional priority” funds over a two-year span, according to a letter to PPACG from a CDOT planner.
       Colorado Springs Transportation Manager Kathleen Krager told the board that she is working to ensure that the state's extra money for Cimarron won't mean funding delays for other local priorities. “The money doesn't magically appear,” she noted.
       Rowe's comments in October, in addition to a separate Westside Pioneer interview with Mark Andrew, a resident engineer for CDOT's Region 2, painted a picture of how the lean times for statewide contractors in recent years - allowing lower construction costs on public projects - have come to an end. Both noted that more public projects are currently being advertised (including repair work related to flood and fire disasters), which makes potential bidders less desperate. Another factor pushing bids is contractors facing inflation in such areas as trucking, labor and concrete, Andrew pointed out.
       For Fillmore/I-25, the new deal was made possible by Colorado Springs delaying the purchase of replacement paratransit vehicles. According to PPACG documentation, the money would have come from the state's FASTER program; the roughly $2 million in savings frees up transportation money for Fillmore.
       Completion of the Fillmore interchange is now seen as summer 2016, Andrew said.
       It is not known if the increase issue will also mean a delay for the Cimarron interchange. CDOT had previously announced the project would be done by July 2017 and has not officially changed that. But the schedule that had originally called for contractor bids this month (November) now says January, according to Rowe.
       The situation contrasts with a year ago, when CDOT announced that funding was in place for both Fillmore and Cimarron. Fillmore, with its fairly unique diverging diamond traffic layout, was even expected to start as early as February 2014, at a cost then announced as $11 million. (This increased several months later to $13 million because of a few design changes combined with inflation, Andrew has explained).
       Both interchanges are chiefly being funded by CDOT's Responsible Acceleration of Mainten-ance and Partnerships (RAMP) program. Ironically, it was while waiting for the funding from RAMP - which is a new program - to work its way through the state bureaucracy this year that contractors' costs started showing steep increases.
       “We were hoping it would be quicker, but it wasn't,” Andrew said of the RAMP process.
       Rowe said that the clearest sign of the inflation trend was a recent project in the Denver area in which all three bidders came in about 20 percent over what CDOT had termed its “guaranteed maximum.” The contractors even told CDOT that if the maximum stayed unchanged in a rebid process, they would not find it in their economic interests to participate, Rowe related.
       On the Fillmore bidding, Andrew said that CDOT was initially surprised to receive only three bids, when in recent years six to eight bids have been typical for jobs of that size. The low bidder, SEMA Construction, was chosen by CDOT despite the higher-than-expected amount. “We [CDOT] have the ability to absorb the shortfall,” Andrew said. “Everyone is on board with the funding.”

Westside Pioneer article