The economic downturn plus the housing market crash means there's never been a better time for local governments to bid out construction projects, with more contractors than usual getting involved and competing on price.
The increased competition has cut costs on large and small projects by 25 to 30 percent around the region, officials said, allowing local governments to keep up the pace of roadwork and other construction even as they pinch pennies in other departments.
For example, Harris County is close to awarding a $13.1 million contract for a new jury assembly building at Congress and San Jacinto, a project county engineers expected to cost $17 million, said Rich Elwood, who handles the county's major building projects. Bids for a security system upgrade to one of the county's jails came in Monday at $5 million, about a third lower than expected, he said.
"This is a great time for a city to get a lot of work done on the cheap," said Jeffrey T. Nielsen, executive vice president of the Houston Contractors Association, which represents about 400 contractors and suppliers in the eight-county region around Houston. "Our guys are looking for as much work as they can get out and now definitely is the time to build."
Harris County Commissioners Jerry Eversole and Steve Radack said they are rushing to get projects ready to bid to take advantage of the lower prices. Radack said he is putting road projects out for bid now that originally were planned for the fall.
"Since you have people out there who, frankly, obviously need work, then look at it this way: We save the taxpayers money and at the same time it's helping stimulate the economy locally," he said. "They're able to keep people employed and we're able to get the taxpayers a better deal. It's a pretty logical thing to me."