Wednesday: Colorado firm wins I-35W bridge contract

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA and JIM FOTI , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 20, 2007 - 4:28 PM

Flatiron Construction's proposal was the most expensive choice, but MnDOT rated it highest. Meanwhile, some officials aren't happy that the state is moving ahead so quickly.

13 peiople died Aug. 1

Two days after the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed, a workman peered over the Mississippi River to examine an area of destruction. Thirteen people died in the Aug. 1 disaster.

Photo: Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune

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Despite submitting the most expensive pricetag and acknowledging that it would take longer than others to do the job, a Colorado company on Wednesday won an intense competition to build the new Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis.

A team of companies led by Flatiron Construction, the ninth-largest transportation contractor in the country, won a four-way competition with a $233.8 million bid to replace the bridge that collapsed into the Mississippi River last month and killed 13 people.

The lead company estimated that it would need just over 14 months to complete the project, and Minnesota Department of Transportation officials said construction could start by Oct. 15 and meet the goal of having a new bridge open by the end of 2008.

The selection of Flatiron, whose representatives sped out of a news conference with little comment, came on a day when Minneapolis officials and legislators again questioned the need for moving the project forward so quickly and criticized MnDOT officials for releasing few details of the new bridge's true cost.

"We have advised, recommended and asked MnDOT to wait," said Sandy Colvin Roy, a City Council member. "They didn't take that advice."

Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau, who serves as transportation commissioner, expressed no concerns as she praised her staff at the news conference: "Let me tell you, we have the best of the best right here."

While MnDOT officials said the winning company has never been used on a major project in Minnesota, Flatiron played a leading role in rebuilding the I-10 bridge over Escambia Bay in Pensacola, Fla., after it was damaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, and also has worked on a span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in California.

Two of its partners on the I-35W project, Figg Engineering and Johnson Bros. Construction, have worked on projects in the Twin Cities. Figg helped build the Wabasha Street bridge in St. Paul; Johnson worked on the Hennepin Avenue suspension bridge. Both of those companies are based in Florida.

"It's very exciting," said Linda Figg, president of Figg Engineering, who disclosed few details regarding the new bridge, other than to promise that it would be "very redundant," a reference to the 40-year-old collapsed bridge's non-redundant design that brought down the entire span when one section failed.

Later, Figg said that her company, though based in Tallahassee, has been performing bridge inspections for the Crosstown Commons reconstruction project on the Minneapolis-Richfield border.

MnDOT provides few details

MnDOT officials said that because of state law they can't comment extensively on the bid award until a contract is signed, a process they hope to complete this month.

They said, however, that a host of factors made Flatiron the best-qualified company, even though its bid was about $57 million more than the lowest bidder. The company's pledge to finish the project in 437 days tied it with another company for the longest time, and was 70 days more than the shortest time, submitted by a team headed by C.S. McCrossan Construction.

Colorado-based Flatiron beat out companies with local ties, including McCrossan of Maple Grove, Ames Construction of Burnsville and Lunda Construction of Black River Falls, Wis., which describes itself as MnDOT's largest bridge contractor.

The Flatiron team could earn millions of extra dollars by finishing before the completion date that will be specified in the contract.

It could get $200,000 a day for an early finish -- up to $20 million for coming in 100 days early -- and a $7 million bonus if it needs to do extra work but doesn't ask for more time to complete it.

However, if the bridge takes longer to complete than Flatiron is promising, the company would have to pay $200,000 for every day it is late.

At Wednesday's news conference, which at times resembled a television game show, technical scores for each team were revealed on large screens.

Flatiron team's score was by far the highest, at 91.47, which led to audible expressions of exasperation from members of the other teams in the crowded room. The scores of the other teams ranged from 55.98 to 67.88.

According to Jon Chiglo, MnDOT's manager for the I-35W project, the selection criteria included points for such things as quality control and public outreach, which meant "we might pay a little more."

Flatiron's selection, however, was highlighted by critics, who said the rush to build a new bridge isn't warranted, and is barreling ahead even before Minneapolis officials can hold a municipal consent hearing.

That public hearing, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. today at the Thrivent Financial auditorium, is part of a process that allows the city to comment on the capacity, access and land-use issues related to the new bridge.

A spokesman for Mayor R.T. Rybak, Jeremy Hanson, said the mayor had conveyed his feeling to state officials that they "do this right, not just do it quickly," also to no avail.

Concerns about project's pace

Hanson added that the mayor had hoped the selection of a company to build the bridge wouldn't happen before today's public hearing

Several DFL legislators also used Wednesday's event to argue that MnDOT is speeding ahead even as taxpayers' confidence in both Molnau and Gov. Tim Pawlenty had waned in the days since the collapse.

"Does Minnesota have confidence in those folks?" asked Rep. Jeremy Kalin, DFL-Lindstrom. "I'm hearing not."

Kalin also said that MnDOT had given no explanation why, after offering each of the losing bidders a $300,000 stipend to cover their costs, the amount had risen to $500,000 apiece.

"With a project of this size, the stipend that we provided was consistent with the law," responded MnDOT's Bob McFarlin, who is Molnau's top assistant.

Researcher Roberta Hovde contributed to this article. mkaszuba@startribune.com • 612-673-4388 jfoti@startribune.com • 612-673-4491

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13 peiople died Aug. 1