A local asphalt company is suing Akron for not saving taxpayers $3 million on its bid to resurface Romig Road.
But the city said it went with more costly concrete because, along with the benefit of an extended lifespan, a tight timeline imposed by a private developer pushed the work into winter, when it's too cold to lay asphalt.
The yearlong roadwork is set to begin in June, ultimately paving the way for the publicly supported redevelopment of the Rolling Acres Mall property. The city acquired the foreclosed mall then tore it down in 2016 and sold its share of the vacant property to a mystery developer last year.
Blueprints obtained by the Beacon Journal/Ohio.com show a 695,383-square-foot rectangular facility that will bear the Amazon logo. The $100 million development promises $30 million in annual payroll by 2024.
The proposed shipping hub has 58 loading docks, 303 parking spaces for semi-trucks and (for now) a bumpy ride south to I-76 or north toward I-77.
To smooth the route, the city gathered $11.4 million — $9.1 million from the state, $250,000 from Summit County, $50,000 from Barberton and the rest from Akron — for a deep reconstruction of this asphalt-patched, concrete stretch of Romig Road.
Bidding for concrete and asphalt contractors began in April.
Kenmore Construction said it would “unconditionally” complete the project on time with a thick build-up of polymer-modified asphalt reinforced by fiber. Flexible Pavements, a trade association for Ohio’s asphalt industry, vouched that the quality of the asphalt would exceed standards the state "uses for its heaviest duty pavements.”
Kenmore bid $9.7 million. But the city picked The Ruhlin Co. out of Medina County, which is charging $12.9 million for concrete.
Kenmore was the only company that came in under budget on the project, which city engineers priced at $11.1 million with asphalt or $11.4 million with concrete. Kenmore bid 12 percent under the city's budget while Ruhlin was 13 percent over. Guidelines for local bidding require a public hearing only if the winning bid is 15 percent over budget.
And Ruhlin wasn’t the cheapest to take the concrete route. Lockhart Concrete of Akron bid $500,000 less than Ruhlin. But Ellen Lander Nischt, spokesperson for the city of Akron, said Lockhart didn't attach a construction timeline.
State law requires government agencies to take the lowest and most responsible bids, meaning that cheaper contracts may be rejected if proposed materials or work is considered inferior, or if bid specifications are not met.
Ohio Public Works Commission Director Linda Bailiff said her agency, which is contributing $9.1 million to the project, does not monitor how bids are handled at the local level. The state's financial institution holds "a contractual agreement with participants that they follow certain laws and rules, but the onus is on them," Bailiff said.
In a lawsuit filed Friday on behalf of Kenmore, Cleveland attorney Sean Koran of Sonkin & Koberna wrote that his client and taxpayers are suffering because "the City is blatantly violating Ohio’s and its own competitive bidding laws and requirements. The lawsuit asks a Summit County judge to order Akron to award the bid to Kenmore.
Koran wouldn't comment further when reached by phone.
In a letter predating the lawsuit, Koran's firm alleged that a city engineer said “concrete was chosen” when asked why Kenmore lost the bid. “This is not a legitimate basis ... and constitutes an abuse of discretion,” wrote Kenmore's attorneys.
Lobbying for Kenmore, Flexible Pavements argued that, contrary to popular belief, asphalt has increasingly become the reliable norm for interstate, heavy-hauling traffic since the 1960s. Plus, it’s cheaper to fix.
Agencies that go with concrete are “essentially betting" that it'll last 35 years, the trade association argued. “It’s a scary thought to wager $3 million of taxpayer dollars in the hope of a better return.”
"The City determined that, given the confines of this project, the 40-year life cycle cost of concrete was lower than asphalt, easily justifying the initial investment cost," Nischt said in an email. "Given the bid prices, over time, the City will expend less to maintain and repair Romig Road as a concrete street.
"Additionally, asphalt cannot be applied at temperature below 40 degrees. The unpredictability of Akron’s winter weather has the potential to interfere with the tight construction schedule, as required by the developer of the project at the former Rolling Acres site. As always, all things considered, the City selected the lowest and best responsible bid for this project."
Reach Doug Livingston at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3792.