URS must wait on $94M bid for light-rail contract

  • Article by: TONY KENNEDY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 4, 2012 - 11:09 PM

Met Council will view report on Sabo Bridge before awarding contract for light-rail line.

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Scaffolding was put underneath the Martin Olav Sabo Bridge in Minneapolis after a support cable broke loose.

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

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A California engineering and construction company associated with the Interstate 35W bridge collapse and the troubled Martin Olav Sabo bike and pedestrian bridge in Minneapolis is facing a delay in its comeback as a bidder for large public works projects in Minnesota.

URS Corp. was in line Monday to be considered for a $94 million Metropolitan Council contract for the Southwest Corridor light-rail line, which will link Minneapolis to Eden Prairie. But as soon as the council's transportation committee convened Monday afternoon, members voted to delay discussion until they see a report exploring why a set of suspension cables fell recently on the URS-designed Sabo Bridge.

Met Council staff member Mark Fuhrmann told the committee that Minneapolis officials informed him Monday afternoon that an independent report on the Sabo Bridge incident will be coming soon. Fuhrmann said the agency should review the report before discussing whether URS should be hired for preliminary engineering and final design work on the next major phase of light-rail transit.

URS declined to comment when reached late Monday.

Talk of barring URS from new public works projects in Minnesota was sparked by Gov. Mark Dayton during his 2010 campaign. He cited URS' role as the state's consultant on the I-35W bridge, which collapsed during rush hour on Aug. 1, 2007, killing 13 people and injuring more than 100 others.

But Dayton recently softened his stance. Katharine Tinucci, a spokeswoman for the governor, said the Met Council's extensive review of URS' qualifications has indicated they are a "reliable contractor'' and that the governor "wants the benefit of their experience'' in worldwide engineering and construction.

The much anticipated report on the Sabo Bridge, by engineers at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, is expected soon, a Met Council spokeswoman said.

San Francisco-based URS was hired by the Minnesota Department of Transportation to evaluate the structural integrity of the 35W bridge several years before it collapsed. The company didn't detect the major design flaw that brought the bridge down -- gusset plates that were too thin.

URS eventually paid $52.4 million to settle a lawsuit for those killed and injured. "I'm sure there are some victims who would say URS shouldn't be allowed back into our state,'' said Minneapolis attorney Jim Schwebel, who was involved in the litigation.

Earlier this year URS hired Tunheim Partners, a Twin Cities public relations firm, to assist with its image and communications in Minnesota. That company's founder, Kathy Tunheim, serves as Dayton's senior adviser on job creation.

The Met Council's light-rail contract wouldn't be the first taxpayer-funded project won in Minnesota by URS since the bridge collapsed. In the past five years, Minneapolis has awarded URS about two dozen contracts worth more than $9 million in total.

Just two weeks ago the Minneapolis City Council authorized staff to negotiate a contract worth up to $1.2 million with URS to study the feasibility of running streetcars on Nicollet and Central avenues.

The company also is bidding to design the new St. Croix River bridge.

Tony Kennedy • 612-673-4213

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