Something different is happening on Main Street.

Main Street running through Coon Rapids and Blaine is getting an overhaul, but not in the traditional way. Rather than create construction plans and then assign the project to the highest bidder, the county is the state's first and one of the nation's first to let the highest bidder do all the planning and building of a major project.

Of the $41.8 million it will take to complete the four and one-half mile stretch of County Road 14 -- known as Main Street as it runs through the county's two largest cities -- some $35.7 million will go to the design-build portion of the project.

For projects before this one, Anoka County engineers have handled the design. This time, C.S. McCrossan Construction and the consulting firm SRF are handling those tasks.

"It's an experiment," County Engineer Doug Fischer said last week. "The biggest advantage is the savings of time. On the other hand, we don't have total control."

The Minnesota Department of Transportation has overseen design-build construction projects before, Fischer said. The rebuilding of the Interstate-35W bridge and a Rum River bridge that needed reconstruction after spring floods were design-build projects, he said.

Unlike those, the Main Street project is strictly a county affair -- one that has attracted MnDOT's attention.

The state Legislature established a design-build program for counties and cities in 2009 and Hennepin and Olmsted counties also have design-build projects in the works.

"Before, the contractor would get the project and have to build to our plans and our specifications," Fischer said. Now, he said, the county is prescribing every detail and telling the contractor that it has to be built a certain way.

"If we have a great design, the contractor has to build a great design. If it's a poor design, that's what the contractor builds, without offering input. Sometimes, it's not the best way to work."

With the Main Street project, Anoka County was responsible for a preliminary design and the property acquisition and odds and ends totalling $6.1 million. Parameters already were set before construction began in Coon Rapids.

"We don't have to spend a year and a half designing it and another year and a half building it," Fischer said. "We also realize that on previous projects, a lot of contractors might have given us a better price had we done things another way."

The project runs from Crane Street in Coon Rapids to Ulysses Street in Blaine.

Six different construction firms bid on the project, with proposals having been received last November. The qualifying proposals were paid a stipend -- another unique aspect of the design-build process, Fischer said.

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419