Missouri bridge bids opened

Missouri bridge bids opened by David Lias Randy Harper, president of the Vermillion Development Company, hit the road Tuesday, with Pierre as his final destination.

His trip by automobile marked the beginning of the end of a much longer journey to turn a dream into reality.

Wednesday afternoon, Harper was back in his car, driving back to Vermillion a happy man.

He watched Wednesday as officials from the Department of Transportation (DOT) in Pierre opened bids for construction of a span over the Missouri River that will connect Vermillion to Newcastle, NE.

The lowest bid fits very well into the budgeting plan for the bridge project, Harper said. It was submitted by Jensen Construction, Des Moines, IA.

Jensen Construction has experience in southeastern South Dakota. One of its more recent projects is the bridge spanning the Missouri River from Springfield to Niobrara, NE.

For years now, Vermillion and Newcastle authorities have been working on spanning the river to provide a more direct transportation route between southeastern South Dakota and northeastern Nebraska.

It's not been an easy process to garner the necessary state and federal funds, meet road design and environmental requirements, and acquire the necessary properties and rights-of-way.

Harper said Tuesday that if bids came in within the estimated cost of $23.1 million for bridge and road work, the documents would be reviewed, and at a meeting of the DOT Commission scheduled April 27, the contract would be awarded to the low bidder on the South Dakota side.

A similar bid opening process will take place in Nebraska on April 27.

"From what I understand from talking to the engineers up in Pierre and Nebraska, we have a couple of things going for us," Harper said. "There is a tremendous amount of interest in the project from some major contractors. They can only guess, but they think they might have up to seven different contractors bid on the project."

Harper said several different construction companies will be working on various aspects of building the bridge.

"But there will be one general contractor in charge of the bridge and the South Dakota roads, and he'll farm out the other jobs except for the (bridge) construction," Harper said.

He added that engineers in South Dakota and Nebraska are also very confident in the projected costs of the bridge.

"When they've seen bids come in so far this year (on the other projects), the engineers have been accurate on their projected costs, and the bids have been coming in at those estimates."

"We have a number of projects � we have over 20 projects being let at the same time," said Tim Bjorneberg, chief road design engineer for the state DOT, Tuesday. "It's a normal monthly process of ours, and we are sure that we will get several contractors bidding on it so we get a competitive bid."

The bids will be noted and checked and presented to the state transportation commission later this month for approval, he said.

Each contractor is responsible for adding up their bids, so officials in Pierre will know immediately who has submitted the least costly proposal.

Harper was optimistic Tuesday that nothing would happen to throw the bridge project off track.

"I've talked with a lot of people in both states to see if there are any problems, and no one can come up with anything looming that will be a roadblock, or a hurdle for us," he said.

The project, which will take two to three years to complete, includes 5.2 miles of a new approach road in South Dakota, the Missouri River span, about 3.5 miles of approach on the Nebraska side and riverbank stabilization there.

In total, the price tag of the Newcastle-Vermillion Bridge is estimated at $23.1 million. Eighty percent of that comes from federal funds, with South Dakota and Nebraska splitting the remaining 20 percent. Included in the cost have been the numerous studies conducted �

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from feasibility to the environmental and economical impact of the structure.

Allocations of the federal funds have come over a period of several years, with support from congressional delegations throughout the years from both states. The Newcastle-Vermillion Bridge Committee also raised thousands of dollars locally to help fund the initial feasibility study.

"This project is one that means building a structure where nothing has existed before," Harper said in an earlier interview with the Plain Talk. "We had to go through a whole different procedure for approval and funding, which takes time and money."

In addition to elected officials in Washington and Pierre, the bridge committee has worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the National Park Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, and in South Dakota and Nebraska, state Game, Fish and Parks, state departments of Natural Resources and state highway departments.

Harper is quick to point out that progress on the bridge could not have proceeded without support and hard work from individuals on both sides of the river.

"Credit is due to many people," he said. "This isn't just a 'Vermillion bridge.' The planning has been a grass roots effort in both South Dakota and Nebraska and it will impact both states and several communities within a 25-mile radius."

The economic benefits of the bridge have long been part of its construction plans.

"Many people are looking upon the construction of this bridge as a gateway to new business opportunities," Harper said. "Locally, Vermillion has existed and survived with a retail trade zone of a half-circle. The bridge will give us a full circle. It will open up the route to Vermillion for 16,000 people living in the two Nebraska counties directly south of us. Not all of them will come here to shop, but some of them will. And if we get 15 to 20 percent sales growth, that will maintain what we have and help attract new stores and services we're currently missing. The bridge will also tap into a new labor market from Nebraska."

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