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Higher-than-expected bids result in delay for CR 5500 bridge project

Second round of bids will be solicited later this month

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
A motorist crosses the County Road 5500 bridge over the San Juan River in December 2020. A San Juan County plan to replace the bridge with a new structure has been delayed.

FARMINGTON — Plans to replace the aging bridge that runs over the San Juan River on County Road 5500 have hit another snag. San Juan County commissioners were informed Feb. 2 that the bids the county solicited to build a new bridge all came in well over budget.

The county had estimated the cost of replacing the bridge at $5.5 million. But San Juan County spokesman Devin Neeley said the lowest bid that was received was for $8.5 million.

The bridge, which dates to the 1970s, is located south of U.S. Highway 64 and just southeast of McGee Park. It has been targeted for replacement since 2017, when an engineering report showed its condition had deteriorated rapidly over the past several years.

Commissioners approved a design for a new bridge in August 2018, with the cost being covered by $2.4 million in capital outlay funding from the state Legislature, money from the New Mexico Department of Transportation and bond funding from the county. They put the project out to bid in December 2020, and the bid deadline was Jan. 19.

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County commissioners had hoped to award a construction contract at their Feb. 2 meeting and see construction begin on the new bridge shortly thereafter. But the higher-than-anticipated bids have forced them to delay that plan.

Neeley said county officials believe they can cut costs on the project and bring a new round of bids down closer to their target figure of $5.5 million.

"We think an overdesign contributed to the overage in cost," he said.

Neeley said the new bridge was designed to withstand a much higher flow of water in the San Juan River than officials believe is necessary. A county press release in December described the replacement bridge as being 4 feet higher than the existing structure, a feature that was incorporated to make it less susceptible to flooding.

Neeley said the new bridge was designed to withstand a river flow of 17,000 cubic feet per second, even though the river would jump its banks at only 4,500 cfs at that location.

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"That's three to four times more flood water in the San Juan River than we could even anticipate," he said. "If that were to happen, everything else would be (washed away) and the bridge would still be standing. … It was a huge, huge overdesign."

Now, that excessive clearance is being addressed.

"We're really working on reengineering our plan," Neeley said, adding that he anticipates a new design will be approved shortly, and the project could go back out for a second round of bids on Feb. 14.

Neeley said the project will be advertised in The Daily Times on that day, and he anticipates a bid deadline will be set for a week or two weeks afterward.

"Essentially, this just pushes the timeline back about two weeks, and we're back where we were to bid this project," he said.

The project had been scheduled for completion in late fall of this year before the delay was announced.

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Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.