By Mike Kaszuba
DFL gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton said Friday that state officials should end all contracting with URS Corp., the state's bridge consultant at the time of the 35W bridge collapse in 2007.
Dayton's comments came just days after new disclosures revealed more evidence that URS representatives had expressed doubts about the bridge's structure before the collapse. Despite URS' role with the bridge, which collapsed and killed 13 and injured more than a hundred in one of the nation's worst infrastructure disasters, state officials have continued to give the company state contracts.
Newly-released company documents showed that Don Fleming, a retired MnDOT engineer working for URS, was concerned that URS project engineer Ed Zhou was "trying a little too hard" to assure state officials that the bridge was safe when "it is clearly overstressed by design standards."
"I'm just outraged," said Dayton, who called the contents of the latest internal company memos "extremely reprehensible". The gubernatorial candidate said that, if elected, he would issue an executive order barring URS from getting state contracts at least until lawsuits over the collapse were settled.
Dayton called it a "clear failure of state government under Gov. Tim Pawlenty" for URS to get new state contracts. "It's terribly wrong that contracts would continue to be awarded at taxpayer's expense to [the] firm," he said. However Dayton said he did not hold the governor responsible for the tragedy.
MnDOT spokesman Kevin Gutknecht said Friday that the agency would not be ending its contracts with URS -- at least not now. "No one at this time has determined that URS has done anything wrong," he said. "Until there is a finding of wrongdoing, MnDOT is legally obligated to provide URS the same opportunity to bid on contracts as it provides to all other organizations that bid for business with MnDOT.
"We need to let the legal process play out," he added.
The gubernatorial candidate said the URS contracts also highlighted the larger problem related to the "explosion" of outsourcing work by state agencies, a practice he said he would curtail. "[It] usually costs more to the taxpayer," he said.