Jenkins says the stimulus is having the intended effect of creating and retaining jobs.

“Companies are now not laying off people they would’ve let go, and some are bringing people back,” he adds.

Sammy Hendrix, South Carolina Heavy-Highway Division director for Carolinas AGC in Columbia, says the situation is similar with the South Carolina Dept. of Transportation’s stimulus lettings so far. However, he sees another reason for the lower-than-expected bid prices: the severe drop in materials prices.

“The DOT engineer estimate is based on historical data from a year ago,” Hendrix says. “The price of products has come down now, so contractors are giving a realistic figure of what the going rate is.”

Competition for projects is healthy but not as intense in rural areas, he says. Still, the savings have been significant and steady enough that SCDOT is also looking to add more projects to its stimulus roll call.

“Each time they’ve had a letting, they’ve had a savings,” he says.

To date, the Georgia Dept. of Transportation has only had one letting, featuring 41 stimulus projects, but the results there showed a similar pattern.

“We were encouraged; it was aggressive and very competitive,” David Spear, press secretary for GDOT, says in an e-mail statement. “We had an average of 4.18 bidders per project, whereas that number was only 2.5 in FY ‘06. Cumulatively, the bids averaged 13% less than our engineer’s estimates, which was within the range of 10%-20% less than estimates that USDOT reported as a national average.

“Contractors clearly are eager to get back to work and are pricing accordingly. If that trend continues, it will be good news for Georgia DOT in that we’ll be able to award even more stimulus projects and create more jobs.”

Florida, which received $1.35 billion in transportation stimulus funding, is just gearing up its stimulus bid lettings, but competition for jobs has been intense there, too.

For example, a June 10 letting included a total of three projects, with the collective cost of those three contracts estimated by FDOT at approximately $90.3 million. (Initial cost estimates for the three contracts were $16.4 million; $32 million and $41.9 million, respectively.)

Bids for all three came in significantly below those initial cost estimates. The apparent low bid for the $32-million project, for example, a widening contract in St. Lucie County, was $12.4 million from J.W. Cheatham of West Palm Beach. Eleven other companies bid the project, with the highest being a $20-million bid from Posen Construction, a Michigan-based firm with offices in Estero, Fla.

In short, on those three contracts, FDOT obtained what it had estimated to be approximately $90.3 million worth of contracts for a bargain price of nearly $46.5 million.

It’s been this way for awhile in the Sunshine State. According to a May 29 Construction Cost Indicators report prepared by Greg Davis, FDOT’s state estimates engineer, bids have been trending well below state estimates for more than three years now.

For its most recently completed fiscal year, 2008/2009, collectively bid prices came in 21% below the state’s estimate. (This does not include design-build contracts.) In 07/08, bids were 19% lower than expected, and they were 13% below estimates in 06/07.

Davis explained that a variety of factors led to FDOT being able to buck the trend that other Southeast states experienced recently of delayed or canceled projects due to cost escalations.

“The low bids for the last three fiscal years coincide with the decline in the housing market,” he says. “Increased competition and a soft labor market outweighed escalated prices from various materials. In general, FDOT cost estimates utilize the most recent bid data as a guide and then uses engineering judgment of recent trends for various construction market items to determine a reasonable cost for the project.”

Robert G. Burleson, president of the Florida Transportation Builders Association in Tallahassee, says state highway contractors are definitely hungry for work and should remain that way for the rest of the year.

“Those (stimulus) jobs will be a feeding frenzy,” he adds.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is also handling a considerable number of stimulus projects. However, officials with the South Atlantic Division of USACE in Atlanta couldn’t report similar findings as their transportation counterparts.

“We currently do not have data to support a position that we are getting any more competition than expected or that pricing is any better than anticipated,” says Maj. Charles N. Langston III, acting regional contracting chief with the South Atlantic Division.