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‘Roads to Prosperity’ bids

Well, surprise, surprise! Bids for a major Interstate 70 Bridge project have come in very close to state estimates.

Either West Virginia Division of Highways engineers are very good at estimating the cost of complex construction work or …

I’m not accusing anyone of anything nefarious. Let’s get that out of the way. But the bottom line on some big state projects is that, if you’re a contractor willing to take a risk, there’s no need to do anything shady.

You will remember that last August, the DOH opened bids on a project that called for repairing or replacing about 26 bridges on I-70 in Ohio County. As I recall, some repaving work was included.

Initially, $170 million in “Roads to Prosperity” bond money had been allocated to the project.

State officials later increased the amount to $200 million.

The lowest bid last summer was $75 million more than that. DOH officials said they would rework the project and put it out for bids again.

Five bids were received and opened a few days ago. They ranged from $214.6 million to $237.7 million.

State officials had allocated $211 million for the project, according to a DOH website. Two other bids, one for $215.3 million and another for $218.3 million, were close.

Put yourself in the position of a construction company executive. You know the state has $211 million to do the I-70 work. Are you going to bid substantially less than that? Why would you, unless you think your competitors might try to undercut you. Chances are, you’ve competed against them enough in the past to have a good idea of how they’ll bid.

It’s much like buying a car. Consumer advocates tell us to never, ever, walk into a car dealership and tell the salesperson how much we’re willing to spend, either in a dollar amount or in terms of monthly payments. Why? Because the salesperson’s job is to get as much as he or she can out of us (In defense of car salespeople, I’ve had three or four convince me to buy lower-cost models than I initially thought I wanted).

DOH officials set cost estimates for hundreds of “Roads to Prosperity” projects. That was part of the process of convincing voters to approve the $1.6 billion bond issue. Telling them that if the measure was approved, X-number of dollars would be spent in their areas was much more effective than merely listing projects.

A few “Roads to Prosperity” bids on work elsewhere in the state have come in substantially below estimates. But, again, if you’re a contractor willing to take the risk of being underbid by a competitor, why wouldn’t you put your bid near what the state hopes to get — assuming, of course, that you can do the work for that amount?

One wonders how the bidding process would work if contractors didn’t know how much they could get out of taxpayers.

•••

President Donald Trump is vulnerable to a Democratic challenger next year, some so-called analysts tell us. Why, they add, look at his poll numbers!

By all means. Real Clear Politics monitors public opinion polling. Just a few days ago, RCP reported four major polls on whether respondents approve or disapprove of Trump. His approval ratings ranged from 43% to 47%. Disapproval ranged from 46% to 55% (some people had no opinion). So, Trump has an approval gap of 1-12 points.

Some pollsters asked whether respondents would vote for Trump or Democrat Joe Biden. Biden edged Trump by 2 points, 51% to 49%. Other potential Democrat nominees trail Biden substantially in the polls.

Go back to the week before the November 2016 election. Nearly all the polls showed Trump losing to Hillary Clinton. Her edge in the polls ranged from 2-6 points. The average during the week before the election was 3.3 points.

Notice anything? Trump is an underdog now by about the same numbers the analysts cited in 2016. Remember how that turned out?

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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