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Receiving no bids for TIGER grant work in Big Sky, county seeks round 3

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Project stakeholders committed to completing full project

By Bella Butler MANAGING EDITOR

BIG SKY – After receiving no bids for grant-funded roadwork on Big Sky’s main road early this month, Gallatin County will open a third round of construction bids for the project.

Since receiving funds in 2019 for what’s known as the TIGER grant, the project has faced hurdles in the bidding process including over-budget bids and most recently, no bids at all. Still, project stakeholders remain steadfast in their effort to complete the project in its entirety.

“We’ll keep trying until we get the bid we need,” said project manager and engineer Danielle Scharf in a Feb. 17 interview.

The Federal Highway Administration in 2019 awarded nearly $10.3 million for the TIGER, or Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, grant to Gallatin County to complete robust road improvements on Montana Highway 64. The project includes adding seven turn lanes, new pedestrian infrastructure and a new traffic signal, among other components. Some of the funding is also dedicated to growing Big Sky’s public transportation system.

After receiving just one bid in early 2021 that was $3 million over budget and zero bids from the county’s second solicitation, which opened Feb. 8, the county and the project’s engineering firm, Sanderson Stewart, made adjustments to address bidders’ concerns.

Contractors that Scharf had expected to bid in the second round had various reasons for not submitting proposals.

One contractor, Scharf said, was concerned about a labor shortage. The county in its latest bid advertisement offered the project on a three-season timeline rather than two seasons to address this concern.

Another hurdle the county faces in getting the project off the ground is adequate funding. Since the grant was awarded, the construction climate has changed, and costs are climbing.

“We are expecting the bids to be over budget due to a fluctuating bid environment with labor shortages and supply chain issues,” Scharf wrote in a statement to EBS, “as well as the fact that all materials have to be hauled to/from Bozeman or Belgrade.”

According to Scharf, the project’s stakeholders include the Big Sky Resort Area District, Lone Mountain Land Company, the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce; the Big Sky Community Organization; Gallatin County; the Montana Department of Transportation; and the Federal Highway Administration.

“All involved would prefer to come up with additional funding to see the full project get constructed, rather than eliminating any of the project components,” Scharf wrote. She added that cutting project components may be considered as a last resort if the funding gap can’t be closed.

In this case, she said, the stakeholders would evaluate each component’s priority based on a community survey conducted in 2021. Respondents indicated that the top two priorities are a left-turn lane at Huntley Drive near Roxy’s and a traffic signal and turn lanes into Meadow Village.

Last summer, Big Sky developer Lone Mountain Land Company privately funded turn lanes near Ace Hardware in order to advance its Powder Light workforce housing development. During that time, improvements to the traffic signal at the junction of U.S. Highway 191 and MT 64 were completed by MDT and funded through a federal program. Funded collectively to the tune of roughly $1.5 million, both projects were originally included in the full scope of the TIGER grant work.

As one of the project’s stakeholders, BSRAD is also in communication with both Gallatin and Madison counties on advancing transportation solutions in Big Sky, according to BSRAD Executive Director Daniel Bierschwale.

“We are interested in continuing to make sure that we’re supporting the active planning and safety concerns that are being generated related to traffic and transportation,” Bierschwale said.

Bierschwale added that it’s impossible to say what the funding gap will be without any bids currently on the table, but that resort tax dollars could be an option for partial funding.

The third round of bidding on the project opens Feb. 20 and closes March 7.

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