County green lights first stretch of Ave. 280 widening project
By Reggie Ellis
tulare county – The first leg of a project to create an expressway stretching from Highway 99 to Exeter may begin later this month.
At its June 20 meeting, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to award a contract to widen a two-mile segment of Avenue 280 (Caldwell Avenue) from the city limits at Akers Road (Road 100) west to Highway 99. Work on this segment of Avenue 280 corridor will also include two bike lanes, pedestrian improvements, street lighting, a traffic signal at Shirk Road, raised decorative medians and a culvert crossing over the Locust Grove Ditch at Shirk Road.
The decision also settled a dispute between rival contractors. The Supervisors 5-0 vote awarded the widening project to the lowest bidder, Cal-Valley Construction in Fresno, Calif. However, the second and fourth lowest bidders contended that Cal-Valley’s bid should have been disqualified.
RMA Director Reed Schenke said Cal-Valley Construction did not list one of the subcontractors that they intended to use on the project nor did it list the percent of work that would be completed by the subcontractor. Janez Seliskar of Teichert Construction, who also bid on the project, commented on a May 31 letter submitted by another bidder, Lee’s Paving, protesting Cal-Valley’s bid for “irregularities.” “The public bidding process has a very clear and defined set of rules and guidelines…and those are there to maintain the integrity of all bids and all jobs for firms regardless of size…According to bid listing form P-20, ‘the bidders must submit all bid items with a number and a corresponding percent with their bid, failure to do so will result in a non-responsive bid’,” stated the protest letter.
“So right there the bid shouldn’t even be considered a non-waivable offense. It should have been rejected at its face value,” Salsgard told the Board of Supervisors.
Schenke explained that irregularities are common in the 20-page bid documents but some can be waived, such as mathematic typos, and others cannot be waived, such as not bidding on all required pieces of the project. All three of the lowest bidders had irregularities in their documents, Schenke said. Cal-Valley was the overall lowest bidder at $10 million, followed by Lee’s Paving ($10.4 million), Agee Construction ($10.9 million), and Tiechert Construction ($11.4 million). All four of the bids were below the engineer’s estimate of $11.8 million. “All of Cal-Valley’s irregularities were waivable,” Shenke said in an interview after the meeting.
Seliskar said all of the lowest bidders should have been thrown out and Teichert Construction, the fourth lowest bidder, should have been awarded the contract as the only legitimate lowest apparent bidder.
The Board entered into closed session and returned at 10:05 a.m. Supervisor Steve Worthley stated that the Board went into closed session to discuss the legal aspects of the item with County Counsel. They ultimately determined that they were in legal standing to hire Cal-Valley. However, before voting, Chairman Pete Vander Poel asked Schenke about Cal-Valley’s history of performance.
Schenke said that they check for good standing with their contract licenses and check for good standings with “bonds.”
“We are reasonably confident that they are qualified to do this work,” Schenke said about Cal-Valley, who has not worked with the County in the past.
The $10 million project will be completely funded by Measure R, the half-cent sales tax increase used for transportation projects countywide, as part of a regional project to widen Avenue 280, better known as Caldwell and Visalia Road depending on which city you live in, from Highway 99 to the city of Exeter. In 2003, the Tulare County Association of Governments proposed widening the road to create a four- to six-lane east-west expressway crossing the county. The project is slated for completion by 2031.
The County of Tulare will be responsible for widening 11 miles of Avenue 280 between the highway and Visalia, Visalia and Farmersville and Farmersville and Exeter. Farmersville began work to widen Avenue 280 (Visalia Road) in March. Currently the City of Exeter is struggling to gather the requisite amount of land to complete their portion of the widening project.