LAWRENCEVILLE - The price tag is much higher than expected for a gigantic project that will overhaul the Interstate 85 and Ga. Highway 316 interchange.
The state Department of Transportation estimated the project would cost about $100 million, but when bids were opened Friday afternoon, the lowest one was almost 50 percent higher than that.
An increase in the cost of building materials is to blame for the price spike, said DOT spokesman David Spear.
Spear also said it is too early to know if the project, which includes new bridges and carpool lanes, will be rebid.
"At this juncture there is no reason to anticipate that will happen," Spear said.
What is known, though, is that at $147 million, the lowest bid makes the project the most expensive DOT has ever undertaken.
"That is considerably more than the project estimate," DOT Board Chairman David Doss said Friday afternoon when told of the lowest bid.
The bid was from a joint venture involving C.W. Matthews Inc. and APAC Southeast. Two other companies also submitted bids, including Snellville-based E.R. Snell.
Spear said DOT had recently begun to suspect the interchange would blow through earlier cost estimates.
"It is significantly higher than our initial estimates, but I think recently we had come to expect it was probably going to be in this ballpark," Spear said.
Spear and others said the higher-than-expected bids stem from an increase in the cost of petroleum-based products that are used in the construction process.
DOT will review the bids over the next 90 days and determine which company will get the project, or whether to seek new proposals.
Several factors will be considered when determining whether to rebid the work, including the project's size and extraneous factors, like increased costs for materials, Spear said.
"We will just go through the evaluation process and hopefully we'll be able to award a bid to one of the bidders," Spear said.
The lowest bidder won't necessarily get the contract. Other factors are also considered when deciding which company to pick, Spear said.
If one of the companies is selected, some work on the four-year project will begin in late winter. Heavy construction would not commence until spring, though.
Doss, the DOT board chairman, said the road work will significantly improve the intersection that handles 263,000 vehicles daily.
"It will offer not only a lot of congestion relief in that area, but it will also offer considerable safety enhancements," Doss said.
When finished, motorists entering I-85 from Ga. 316 will no longer be dumped into the faster left-hand lanes. Instead they'll be able to merge into the slower lanes on the right side of the interstate.
Also, parallel lanes that will go beside the expressway will let drivers hop between Pleasant Hill Road and Ga. 316 without merging onto the interstate.
The two new "fly-over bridges" and other rebuilt spans will give the interchange a much different look, Doss said.
"I think it's going to be another Spaghetti Junction," he said, referring to the web of overpasses that forms the I-285/I-85 interchange.