“We're trying to better understand when the DOT is bidding its work, because we've found limited resources out there throughout the southeast, especially due to the effects of all the hurricanes,” said Hall.
One consistent challenge was getting contractors to want to bid on a contract full of stipulations by virtue of the fact that the city is bidding it out, said Schneider. “Being government, our contractors have to be pre-qualified,” he said. “If you're pre-qualified and submit the low bid, you get the job.”
Because that type of bidding doesn't always yield the best quality work—or even the lowest cost—Jacksonville is working on a new structure in which cost would not be the only consideration. In that format, 75% of the consideration of a contractor would be based on pricing, but the remaining 25% would be based on other contractor characteristics, including change order history, schedule compliance, environmental compliance, quality, and safety.
“Sometimes the low bidder might have the lowest price, but not the best schedule compliance,” said Schneider. “We want to try to mix price and other factors together. It will help the city get a better mix of price and quality.”
The other step Jacksonville's public works department is taking to try to attract and retain contractors for its roads projects is varying the size of contracts—both bundling them together to make them bigger, and breaking them apart to make them smaller.
“If we have several projects in the same geographic area, we're looking to bundle those up to make them more attractive, so one bidder can pick up four or five projects,” said Schneider. The city has been bidding out about one contract per month, he said, but he's hopeful that rolling up several projects would create more demand.
“I don't know that there's a great sense of urgency that you have to win one bid, because you know there will be another next month,” said Schneider. “This will make it more urgent. We're hoping that will motivate them to cut their margin down and give us better prices.”
Jacksonville also is looking at the opposite of bundling—at pulling out portions of contracts such as the landscaping piece and creating smaller projects that would be attractive to a different set of outfits. “We have quite a few smaller contractors in town that haven't engaged because most projects are in the $8 million to $12 million range,” said Schneider. “There are lots of contractors with capacity for $1 million to $3 million projects.”
Rex Huffman, senior vice president for the Jacksonville/Orange Park division of Gibbs & Register, a contractor headquartered in Orlando, said that approach makes projects more appealing to his firm. “We like the size of the projects. We don't take on the huge ones,” he Huffman. “The city has done a good job creating different sized projects to attract different types of contractors.”
Gibbs & Register currently has two roads projects under way in Jacksonville, Huffman said—one where a turning lane is being added ($4.2 million) and one where the road is being widened ($2.7 million). He said 90% of the work his firm does is for cities and counties, and the varied size contracts is a helpful tool for getting contractors interested.