By Mark Fischenich
Free Press Staff Writer
— For the second year in a row, Mathiowetz Construction crews will be toiling on major road projects on both the west and east ends of the Mankato-North Mankato community.
Sleepy Eye-based Mathiowetz had the low bid Friday for the reconstruction of Blue Earth County Road 17 (old Highway 14) between Mankato and Eagle Lake, believed to be the largest single construction contract in county history at just under $10.3 million.
The two-year, four-mile project will extend the four-lane portion of Madison Avenue a half-mile farther to the east, reconstruct the highway to and through Eagle Lake, create four new roundabouts and add a bike trail between the two cities.
Mathiowetz’s winning bid was $642,000 lower than the only other bid by Hoffman Construction Co. of Black River Falls, Wis.
Assuming the Blue Earth County Board on Tuesday approves the bid, which was $384,000 above the engineer’s estimate, Mathiowetz workers and equipment will be at work on County Road 17 simultaneously with the company’s second year of construction of the new Highway 14 expansion and interchange on North Mankato’s west side.
That $19 million project, which began last year and is to be completed by fall, adds about two miles of four-lane divided highway west of Lookout Drive and adds an interchange at Nicollet County Road 41 (Rockford Road).
The 2012 construction season also had Mathiowetz building the new $5 million interchange on Mankato’s east side at Highway 14 and Blue Earth County Road 12, a project that included a $4.2 million connection of the interchange to County Road 17.
Brad Ommodt, business development director for Mathiowetz, said the winning bid on this year’s County Road 17 project will make it one of the biggest the company has added to its 2013 construction schedule. And Ommodt said it’s helpful to have two major projects under way in the same community at the same time.
“You just create efficiencies by having workers in the same area so you can share jobs,” he said.
The County Road 17 project will keep about 40 construction workers occupied, on average, through the summer, Ommodt said.
Blue Earth County Public Works Director Al Forsberg said he was satisfied with the bids, noting the low bid was less than 4 percent above the estimated construction cost.
“That’s considered well within the range of a good and competitive bid. I’m very pleased,” Forsberg said. “You know, that’s a very big and complex project.”
Adding right-of-way and engineering costs will bring the total project to about $12 million, Forsberg said. The Minnesota Department of Transportation is providing more than 90 percent of the funding through turnback funds as it transfers responsibility for the former state highway over to the county.
Forsberg said the size and experience of Mathiowetz makes him more optimistic that construction can be ahead of schedule by the time it must shut down for the winter. The 2013 work is focused on the project’s east side, including the creation of an urban-style street in Eagle Lake and a roundabout at 598th Street on the city’s western edge.
But Forsberg is hoping Mathiowetz might also be able to complete the section from Mankato Ford to County Road 12, including the new roundabout there, before the construction season ends.
“We’d like to get that done this year so the state can do their two Highway 22 roundabouts in 2014,” he said. “That would really help with the traffic.”
Construction of those 2014 roundabouts — along Highway 22 at Madison Avenue and at Adams Street — are expected to cause serious disruptions on some of Mankato’s busiest streets. Road work on County Road 17 just east of Highway 22 would only add to the congestion.
Forsberg and Ommodt both believe work could begin on the Eagle Lake end of the County Road 17 project by the end of this month.
“If everything’s approved and all the documents are in place (construction should begin in May),” Ommodt said. “And if winter ends.”
Forsberg said the 2013 construction season could start very soon despite the cold and soggy spring — if the skies clear for a few days in a row.
“The days are getting longer, and the sun is high and quite intense,” he said. “So things will dry out quickly.”