Old 81 project inches forward

Chad Frey
The Kansan
A project to resurface Hesston Road, and widen shoulders on rural portions of the road, moved forward this week when bids came in as much as $1 million under budget.

nullTuesday was a day of reckoning, in a way, for the Harvey County Commission. It was also a day that some have been waiting for.

The commission opened, and reviewed, bids for a project to rejuvinate Hesston Road/Old 81 from Newton to the McPherson County Line.

There were three bids on the table Tuesday — with the engineering estimates at about $4 million. All of the bids brought forward Tuesday were within estimates.

"I am pleasantly surprised," said Randy , county commissioner. "... With the surprises we have seen in pricing with other things."

The highest bid of the three, with add alternates included, came from Cornejo and Sons at more than $4.1 million. The low bid, with all add alternates, came from Pearson Construction at $more than $3.6 million. APAC offered a $3.88 million bid.

"The low bid is almost a million dollars under what we thought we were going to have  to spend on this road," Swartzendruber said. "That is good news."

The commission has set aside $2.5 million from the county budget for the project, with additional funds coming from revenue replacement funds from the American Rescue Plan for 2020.

About $ 783,019 would need to be found — Swartzendruber suggested using American Rescue Plan Funding for 2021.

"That number does not concern me, is my point," Swartzendruber said. "If you approved the bids to day, for cash basis law, you have to commit county funds for this."

The commission voted to award the bid, pending a review by engineers, to Pearson.

Hesston Road, known colloquially as "Old 81,"  is Harvey County's most narrow and heaviest traveled county road.

The stretch between Newton and Hesston carries commuter traffic — drivers who work in manufacturing facilities in Hesston while living in Newton. The road was once part of 81 Highway, at the time the longest transcontinental highway in the world.

The county has been looking at a project to resurface the road, widening the shoulders and road in the process, for several years. It is a project large enough that if approved would be the only project for at least one year in the county Road and Bridge budget.

Design for improvements to Hesston Road between the Newton City limits and the McPherson County line began in 2018 — and were presented to the commission this week.

It has been the goal for more than a year to have the project begin in early 2022.

The commission voted unanimously to put the project — estimated at $4.6 million — out for bids.

The design and work is being split into three sections — from Newton to Hesston; in the city of Hesston; and from Hesston to the county line by Moundridge.

The stretch from Newton to Hesston will receive widened shoulders and "mainline improvements." That stretch of roadway extends from about 72nd street on the south side of Hesston to about Prestressed Concrete near North Newton.

The existing concrete bed of the stretch was part of 81 highway, constructed in the late to mid 1940s.

According to county staff, the narrow to non-existent shoulders and pavement buckling create safety hazards, as well as "constant costly maintenance issues."

In the city of Hesston the roadway will be resurfaced and repainted. For that portion of the project, the city and county will cost-share the project.

The northern section, from Hesston to the McPherson County Line, will see similar attention to the southern portion of the road.

The shoulder work of that stretch will be bid as an alternate, allowing the county to not commit to that portion of the work if the bid is too high.

The most recent pavement surfacing performed on the road was a sealing done in 2011.


The plan calls for 150 working days — which translates into about eight months of construction on the roadway using five day weeks.

The plan, as bid, will allow contractors to close roughly one-mile sections of the road at a time and use gravel roads as detours as needed.

The project bid  proposed start date of March 2021.

Construction is expected to take through October or November of 2022.