Injunction to halt work on St. Croix bridge is denied in federal court

  • Article by: JIM ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 6, 2013 - 9:18 PM

But McCrossan Construction Inc. suit is proceeding in the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

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This artist rendering shows the proposed St. Croix River Crossing between Oak Park Heights, Minn., and St. Joseph, Wis.

Photo: Photo/minnesota Department Of Tr, MnDOT

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A federal judge on Monday refused to grant an order halting work on the $626 million St. Croix bridge project in a bid dispute, but C.S. McCrossan Construction Inc. is still pursuing a similar request before the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Kyle also put McCrossan’s federal suit on hold until the state court makes a ruling. McCrossan had filed the dual lawsuits against the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) because the company alleged the agency violated both federal regulations and its constitutional rights.

“Of course, we’re extremely disappointed with the decision,” said Tom McCrossan, president of the Maple Grove company, adding the firm is considering its next legal step. “The reason we’re pursuing this is solely to prevent the wasteful expenditure of taxpayer money.”

The lawsuit stems from MnDOT’s awarding of a $58.1 million bid for the contract to complete approach work on the bridge, while rejecting McCrossan’s low bid of $52.3 million. McCrossan had also offered the proposal with the best technical score under a MnDOT rating system.

The approach work on the Minnesota side of the St. Croix River is part of several projects associated with the bridge that include frontage road changes along Hwy. 36 and an interchange on Hwy. 95. A joint venture of Ames Construction Inc. and Lunda Construction Co. was awarded the bid, and are now co-defendants in the suit.

Ames/Lunda was awarded the contract because its proposal met MnDOT’s goal of having 16.7 percent of the project’s subcontractors classed as disadvantaged business enterprises (DBEs) — firms owned by women or minorities as a way to correct discrimination in government highway project contracting.

McCrossan’s bid had secured about 10.7 percent of DBE subcontractor participation, and that shortfall is at the center of the lawsuit. MnDOT maintains that McCrossan did not follow the instructions laid out in the bid proposal. McCrossan, however, in an appeals process before MnDOT and now in court, argued that it made clear to MnDOT that as the project progressed, it would meet those DBE goals.

But MnDOT officials concluded that McCrossan had not proved it would meet the goal. Kyle, in his order, agreed.

“Perhaps most damning to McCrossan’s argument … is that fact that both Ames/Lunda and [third bidder] Hoffman/Shafer were able to submit proposals meeting MnDOT’s 16.7 percent goal for DBE participation,” the judge wrote. “… All three contractors were operating on a level playing field, and two met the project’s goal while McCrossan did not; there is simply no suggestion in the record that MnDOT’s actions benefitted one contractor over another.”

The judge also cited the costly damage an injunction or temporary restraining order to halt the bridge project would cause to taxpayers. McCrossan had also challenged those MnDOT figures as being unreliable and baseless.

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