Improvements top $14 million as South Fork road project approaches its end

Posted 10/3/19

Upgrades to a roughly 15-mile stretch of the upper Southfork Road are nearing completion, though the job is proving more expensive than expected.

The work — which is primarily being funded …

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Improvements top $14 million as South Fork road project approaches its end


Upgrades to a roughly 15-mile stretch of the upper Southfork Road are nearing completion, though the job is proving more expensive than expected.

The work — which is primarily being funded by the federal government — is now on pace to be a roughly $14.4 million project. That’s about $2.4 million more than officials predicted when the project was mapped out in 2018.

“What most of that is [that] the bids came in quite a bit higher than what was expected,” Park County Engineer Brian Edwards explained to county commissioners last month, adding, “We only had a couple bids [last winter] and we were expecting a lot more.”

Many of the larger general contractors had already committed to other projects by the time the project was ready for bidding, while the short timeline on the large project was also a factor, he said.

Fortunately for Park County, the Federal Highway Administration is covering the extra costs — including some unexpected items that popped up during construction.

“We’re not eating any of that, which is good,” Edwards told commissioners at their Sept. 17 meeting, adding that, “I think they [the Federal Highway Administration] have really bent over backwards to try and hold our costs firm.”

Park County’s net contribution to the work on Road 6WX remains at $2.365 million, Edwards said. That includes around $775,000 from the recent 1 percent sales tax.

As he noted, the biggest cost increase came from a pricier-than-expected construction contract. The Federal Highway Administration initially figured the contract would total around $9.85 million, when contingencies were factored in. But between higher bids and changes, the actual work from Mountain Construction Co. of Lovell is projected to top $12.4 million (in addition to about $2 million worth of engineering). Edwards said the amount of work that needed to be completed within a one-season window contributed to the higher construction costs.

Mountain Construction is leading the rehabilitation and resurfacing of more than 7 miles of gravel road, the reconstruction and paving another 7 or so miles and the replacement of the Ishawooa Bridge (County Bridge EGF). Some 60 acres of land are being cleared as part of the project, which also was expected to involve 65,000 cubic yards of roadway excavation and 180,000 pounds of steel.

The work starts about 30 miles southwest of Cody, about where Road 6WX (the Southfork Road) enters the Shoshone National Forest. The route is being paved to about the Valley Elementary School, with revamped gravel from there to the end of the road at Cabin Creek.

Crews are on-schedule to finish the road work by the middle of November, said Park County Public Works Project Manager Ben McDonald, while some bridge work is lagging slightly behind and set to be completed in mid-December.

“We’re heading toward [the] light at the end of the tunnel,” Edwards reported.

In a Saturday Facebook post, the public works department thanked travelers for their patience during the construction.

The project was slightly expanded to include “some really big improvements” to the road’s drainage through the Deer Creek Campground and Cabin Creek, McDonald said.

Project costs also rose by about $100,000 after some of the soil underneath Road 6WX was determined to be unsuitable, he said; to fix some soft spots, workers had to do some additional excavation and bolster the route with river rock. To address concerns raised by the U.S. Forest Service, “we had to have a tribal arch [archaeological] monitor show up and watch” as the extra earth was dug up, McDonald told commissioners.

However, following those setbacks, “things are looking really good right now,” he said.

Edwards added in an email that, “Sometimes when federal funds are involved, some of the requirements are tedious. However, since 85 percent-plus of the funds [are] coming from the federal program, the extra hoops are to be expected.”

He also praised the support that the Federal Highway Administration and the Forest Service have provided on the project.

On top of the $14.4 million worth of upgrades to Road 6WX, commissioners also opted to have Mountain Construction replace a roughly 60-year-old wooden bridge on nearby Hunter Creek Road (Road YXD). That cost the county an extra $400,000 on top of the $2.36 million it had already committed. The bridge provides access for heavy logging trucks, but was cracking and under load restrictions, Edwards said earlier this year. Having crews already in the area provided an opportunity to take care of the bridge now and not have to worry about it for many years, he said.

Commissioners are hoping that the work on the Southfork Road (Road 6WX) is only the first phase of upgrades, as they’d like to improve the other 18 or so miles of the route with more federal aid. An application is already being prepared, Edwards said.

“We are hopeful that successful completion of the first phase will go a long way towards laying the groundwork for a second phase,” he said in an email. “This would leave the Southfork Road (CR 6WX) in excellent shape for several years moving forward.”

In their initial application for Federal Lands Access Program funding in 2017, commissioners noted that the 33-mile Southfork Road provides access to millions of acres of public lands — including the Shoshone National Forest and Buffalo Bill Reservoir — and thousands of acres of private residential and agricultural lands. Traffic ranges from an average of 642 vehicles per day on the lower end of the road down to 71 per day toward the upper end, according to county data.