“Even the Florida DOT will try to split up the contracts to attract contractors of different sizes so that there's plenty of room for the little guys and the big guys,” said Huffman.Cost considerations
The other potential roadblock to the successful completion of the Better Jacksonville plan—particularly when it comes to the road repair and construction projects involved—is the mounting cost of materials. “Asphalt, pipe and concrete—those will be the killers,” said Huffman of Gibbs & Register.
Where the bidding process is concerned, one of the steps Jacksonville officials have considered is having contractors bid to an index of costs, a step that he said would alleviate some of the risk from contractors who have to anticipate the rising cost of materials when they enter their bids.
“We've thought about having them bid as though they're going to do the job tomorrow, and as the index changed, we would adjust pricing,” he said. “We think that we can get better prices doing that.”
Currently, Jacksonville's road work contracts only include an index for asphalt, but skyrocketing costs for other materials is prompting the city to consider broadening the practice. “Given the fact that it looks like concrete and steel are not going to stabilize any time soon, we're looking at bidding to an index for those too,” said Schneider.
Huffman said that approach would have great appeal to contractors, which often pay far more for concrete and pipe than they bid, he said. “They would be doing themselves a great service if they did that—especially with pipe, asphalt, and concrete,” he said. “If the city did that, it would show a lot of creativity, and they'd get a lot of respect from contractors. It would also save the city money.”
Despite the assorted challenges, Jacksonville's roads projects are still moving forward, and the city is finding the quality of work it desires for the projects. “We're confident we can maintain the quality—it's getting contractors to commit to do the work that's the bigger issue,” said Hall.
And so far, the contractor shortage hasn't become a dire situation, but Schneider said he can foresee the day when it will. Even then, however, it is important to the city to keep as much work local as it possibly can.
“I don't think we're there yet, but at some point down the road we will reach capacity,” said Schneider. “This is the Better Jacksonville plan. Our preference is that Jacksonville companies do the whole plan.”