Steel Bridge Alliance director applauds protest by two teams

  • Article by: JIM FOTI and MIKE KASZUBA , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: September 22, 2007 - 8:36 PM

The dispute continues over the award of the I-35W bridge contract to the highest bidder.

The National Steel Bridge Alliance joined the list of critics of the process that the state used in selecting Flatiron Constructors and Manson Construction to reconstruct the collapsed Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis.

"If it's fair and equitable that the Minnesota DOT gives away $57 million," Conn Abnee, the alliance's executive director, said on Friday, "I need to get in line so that I can get some of that if they're that easy."

The winning firms' bid was $57 million higher than the lowest bid.

Abnee acknowledged that his Chicago-based group was upset because he said Flatiron appeared to be moving to a concrete -- not a steel -- bridge. MnDOT officials and a spokesperson for the Flatiron team declined to comment on what kind of bridge would be built.

Abnee applauded the protest filed by two construction teams that submitted losing bids. "I'm very tickled," he said.

"There's something that's definitely astray with this process," he said.

Call for details to be released

Dean Thomson, a lawyer representing C.S. McCrossan and Ames/Lunda, the teams that filed the protest, on Friday called on MnDOT to release some details of the technical scores that the four teams received.

Flatiron won the contract, which is awarded through a complex formula, because its technical score was higher than McCrossan's. The technical score was based on design elements, bridge aesthetics, site improvements, public relations efforts and other factors.

If Flatiron's technical score had been about six points lower, Thomson said, the award would have gone to McCrossan. And, he said, "if Flatiron received a higher score by six points due to its public relations plan, then this proposal is costing $85 million more for public relations, and that simply cannot represent the best value to the public."

The state has calculated that the absence of the I-35W bridge is costing road users $400,000 a day. Thomson multiplied that cost by the 70 additional days in the Flatiron schedule and added it to the price difference to come up with the $85 million figure.

Review process is underway

Thomson argued that, because a basic breakdown of the technical scoring would not contain any proprietary design information, MnDOT would be allowed to and should disclose those details to the public.

But MnDOT spokesman Kevin Gutknecht said his agency cannot release any aspect of the proposals until the contract is signed.

He also sought to allay concerns that the winning team consisted entirely of firms based in other regions of the country. "I think that we're going to find that the companies who build this bridge will hire people from Minnesota. They'll buy materials and spend money in Minnesota."

Jim Schwartz, communications director for the Department of Administration, said Betsy Hayes, a contract expert at the department, was busy evaluating the protest filed by the two teams.

The process usually takes anywhere from one to two days to one to two weeks, he said.

Hayes' recommendation will go to Transportation Commissioner Carol Molnau, who will decide what, if any, remedy should be taken.

jfoti@startribune.com • 612-673-4491 mkaszuba@startribune.com • 612-673-4388

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