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A car passes by the intersection of Christensen Road and U.S. Highway 30 on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019, east of Cheyenne. Wyoming Tribune Eagle/file

CHEYENNE – The city is considering a contract with Cheyenne-based Reiman Corporation for the construction of the Christensen Road overpass amid legal and financial questions.

Bids for the project were opened two weeks ago, with Reiman Corp. offering to build the project for $10.6 million and S & S Builders coming in at $11.7 million.

After bids went public, some wondered how both were millions short of projected costs.

The highest estimate, $17 million, came from Reiman Corp. early on. BenchMark Engineers, which originally designed the connector, put that number closer to $16 million.

Voters approved $15 million in sixth-penny funds for the overpass in 2017, and the estimates, $1 million or more over budget, prompted the city to make cost-cutting changes to BenchMark’s designs. After the city cut ties with BenchMark in 2017, AVI, Reiman Corp. and HDR Engineering reduced the estimate to $13 million.

How will contractors build the overpass, designed to connect two halves of east Cheyenne, for $4.5 million under budget?

They won’t.

The city is expected to incur a number of construction and utility relocation costs originally folded into BenchMark’s estimate. These could add more than $2 million to the overall cost, according to those familiar with the bids.

“When you add all of these extra costs in, you don’t really have a project that’s, say, $4 million under budget,” Councilman Rocky Case said.

Early estimates also included a Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities water line the agency ultimately decided was unnecessary, cutting more than $1 million from the project.

But BenchMark Engineers President Scott Larson said the city made a number of smaller changes that could lead to unexpected complications. He recently asked to have his team’s signatures and seals removed from the designs for this reason.

“They’re changing things,” Larson said. “Does that mean it’s going to be lower quality? Not necessarily. Have they evaluated the impact the changes could have, either directly or indirectly, on the rest of the project? I don’t think so. They need to know why we did something a certain way.”

It’s still unclear what the city will do with as much as $2 million in additional sixth-penny sales tax funds for the project, but Larson and Case both said a secure contingency fund would be most practical.

“These were dollars available in the event that an unknown comes up,” Case said. “They would have to do a contract modification to use it, but the dollars were available so we wouldn’t have to allocate extra dollars. It scares me if those funds are not there.”

Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr said it’s typical to have contingency funds earmarked, but she wasn’t sure if the city has any set aside yet. She said she expects some unanticipated costs as construction begins, and won’t consider what to do with overages until it wraps up.

“We are not going to talk about any overages until all of the costs are in,” she said. “What I’d like to see is, if there are overages for a specific project, that we dedicate those funds to ongoing operations and maintenance.”

She maintains the project’s lower cost won’t affect quality, arguing Reiman has a proven track record in Cheyenne development.

Another concern is whether the two-lane bridge can effectively withstand expansion. Months before the city parted ways with BenchMark, the firm’s designs accounted for a traffic study noting four lanes would be necessary to keep up with east Cheyenne growth in the future.

“One property owner wouldn’t sell, so instead of going through an eminent domain process, they had us change the design to avoid having to get the property,” Larson said. “We had designed it for the full width, so you would only have to build the retaining walls once.”

This could make it more expensive and time-consuming to expand, he said.

Larson also wonders if Reiman is legally eligible to bid on the project, given the company’s active consultation on it.

He said he’s been approached by lawyers with plans to take legal action if Reiman is awarded the contract, citing a state statute barring anyone who prepares bid documents from bidding on the final package.

“In their mind, it’s a clear violation,” he said. “And I don’t want this project to be delayed any further. If there’s a legal battle, it’s only going to delay the project and increase its cost.”

City Attorney Sylvia Hackl didn’t respond to request for comment by press time, but, in the past, city officials said they plan to choose a contractor that abides by all city and state regulations.

The contract between the city and Reiman Corp. will go before the Cheyenne City Council’s Finance Committee on Tuesday.

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