City councilors grouse, but approve bridge bill at $10M more than planned

Sioux Falls council members were upset that they found out about the higher-than-expected bid on Friday afternoon.

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Architectural drawing of the planned reconstruction of the 6th Street bridge in downtown Sioux Falls.
Contributed / City of Sioux Falls

SIOUX FALLS — The Sioux Falls City Council agreed on Tuesday, Jan. 17, to spend $21 million for a downtown bridge.

That was nearly double the original budget to replace the aging span of the Big Sioux River at Sixth Street.

The council was told about the additional money via email on Friday afternoon, Jan. 13, just before the three-day Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday weekend.

The decision had to be made this week.

Nobody was happy about it.


“Decisions that are made quickly are often made wrong,” said Counselor Pat Starr, who voted against approving the contract.

The council accepted the bid from the Journey Group, but not before grilling Public Works Director Mark Cotter for more than an hour about how the project, originally estimated by city staff to cost $11.1 million, actually would run $21.8 million.

The project also includes replacing the underground utilities east to Weber Avenue, which requires boring a 42-inch passage through hundreds of feet of quartzite. The upgrades are necessary to serve the expanding Cherapa commercial and residential campus and other development in the area.

The project comes at a time when federal money is flowing into infrastructure projects around the country, which means the companies capable of doing the work are already busy. That, coupled with inflation of construction materials and the complex nature of the downtown work, contributed to the higher-than-expected bid, Cotter said.

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Mark Cotter, public works director for the City of Sioux Falls.

“We were taken back as well by the bid and opened it up and saw the disparity,” Cotter told the council.

The circumstances, while factual, did little to console the councilors, who said they were upset by the lack of warning and public discussion about the increase. The time table for approval was compressed as they have 30 days after opening bids to make a decision to accept or not.

The bid from the Journey Group — the only one received — was opened Dec. 22.

“I have severe reservations about doing it, but I have no factual evidence in front of me that if we don’t do it things will get any better in 12 or 14 months or four years from now,” said Councilor Curt Soehl. “The phone has been ringing off the hook.”


The vote was 6-2.

“What upsets the public and what we are going to hear from the public is that they were left out and there wasn’t a lot of time,” Starr said. “Where did we get off track. Why did we have to rush this? Why did we get it on such short notice? That’s the frustrating part.”

Councilor Rich Merkouris voted for accepting the contract because it wasn’t the right venue to make a statement about the process. That should come later.

“I will support this, this evening, under extreme frustration, anger, insert whatever phrase you want to insert. But I won’t make a political point by voting against something where our city gave our word to people doing good work in our community,” Merkouris said.

Councilor Greg Neitzert joined Starr in voting no.

“This isn’t about what concrete we choose. It’s a 10 million dollar extra expenditure. We’re talking about $22 million. We’ve spent two and three years, even more than than sometimes, talking about things like indoor pools and parking ramps and we’re talking about, literally, a couple of days,” Neitzert said. “I’m not blaming anybody. I don’t think anybody hid the ball or anything. But it is unacceptable, at 4:50 p.m. on Friday of a holiday weekend to get an email saying we need ten million extra dollars. That can’t happen.”

To cover the additional cost, the city will pull $8 million from the North Minnesota reconstruction project that's available because of a delay in delivery of the pipe needed for utilities. The rest, about $3 million, will come from a capital reserve fund, which will require a special meeting to approve on Jan. 24.

The initial stages of the project should begin in February with completion in November.


Patrick Lalley is the engagement editor and reporter for Sioux Falls Live. Reach him at
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