In the News
Posted on February 09, 2023
This article was originally published by Jodi Schwan of SiouxFalls.Business
Construction could begin as soon as next week on the Sixth Street bridge after the Sioux Falls City Council ultimately gave support to moving forward despite a higher-than-expected cost.
The project, earlier dubbed the Unity Bridge, will reconstruct Sixth Street downtown from the Big Sioux River east to Weber Avenue, including bridge, roadway, and underground utility improvements.
Its design, art and landscaping will pay tribute to city founders and people who have been instrumental in being “bridge builders.”
The bridge is scheduled to close Feb. 13, though access will be maintained to LSS and Cherapa Place via Sixth Street from Weber Avenue.
After weeks of discussion, the City Council agreed to move ahead with the project, which was bid at $21.8 million — $9 million over estimate.
“This one is really key,” Mark Cotter, director of public works, said of the project.
“Eighth Street and Sixth Street are two very busy east-west connections that go to and through downtown. We’ve been working closely with adjacent developments so we can time this project with development and build with them as opposed to in front of or behind them.”
For Cherapa Place, that’s especially key. Developer Jeff Scherschligt said he’s finalizing a retail deal and timing of the roadwork is “very critical” to tenants.
“We could not have that situation asking them to build out a retail space, and a year or two later the construction project closes down Sixth Street,” he said. “It would be a nightmare. We understand how difficult this was for the council. And yet why the city of Sioux Falls is successful is because city councilors can see through some of that haze and do the right thing for the community and the commitments the city has made. I really do want to thank those councilors, all of them.”
The city this week gave the notice to proceed on the project to Journey Group’s SFC Civil Constructors division, which was the only bidder.
For Journey, “this was a project we wanted to get,” CEO Randy Knecht said. “It would have been difficult for us building Cherapa if we didn’t have control of both the bridge at the Cherapa site in terms of the coordination.”
As such, SFC Civil made what Knecht describes as a “pretty aggressive” play for the project, with a bid designed as though it would be a competitive process.
“We didn’t bid it assuming we were the only bidder,” he said. “We bid it expecting it to be competitive, and we really wanted the project because it would benefit both the bridge and the street project and the Cherapa project to have the same company in charge of both. That’s how we looked at it.”
SFC Civil solicited multiple bids from subcontractors involved in various elements of the work, Knecht said. Multiple challenges with the project led to a cost higher than the city thought, he said.
“You’re having to bring utilities under the railroad tracks and go through the granite, “he said. “It’s a pretty big bore pit that has to be excavated and you have to bore under the railroad tracks.”
The contractor doing that work had “a much longer time frame than in the original estimate,” he said. “And that’s just one example. Several other things make the project very complex, phased and difficult.”
The city heard that one large contractor from Iowa was considering bidding but ultimately decided not to, Cotter said.
“We heard that one bridge contractor … was taking a look at it but concerned about the schedule, and with the amount of additional work coming into the Midwest, those were the reasons we heard they didn’t submit a bid.”
There’s a lot of other available work, Cotter and Knecht agreed.
“There is just a lot of work out there right now and a lot of bridge work in our area and our market, and work that is much less complicated than this,” Knecht said. “So contractors are going to go after that work because they’re not as difficult to complete. Just building in downtown Sioux Falls is not easy, trying to get in and out and amongst all the other traffic going on. It’s a significant complicating factor that may have kept others away.”
Still, doing the project now also is important for the condition of the bridge, Cotter said.
“We’ve been monitoring the condition of this bridge for number of years. Our experts have told us not to put any more preservation dollars into it,” he said. “You can see the bridge is tired and needs to be replaced, so timing of doing this from a structural standpoint, a safety standpoint and timing it with the downtown development happening on the River Greenway and along Sixth Street really lines up the reason we wanted to do it this year.”
The River Greenway Recreation Trail, along the east bank of the Big Sioux River, will be closed from Eighth Street to the Falls Park entrance on Weber Avenue. A detour will be established that follows a route west of the Big Sioux River through downtown and along Phillips Avenue into Falls Park.
The city’s contract with SFC Civil calls for the project to be substantially complete this year, though some work will continue into 2024.
“We’re excited to get started on it,” Knecht said. “Our teams are putting plans together so we can hit the ground running.”
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