Light-rail contract shakeup could raise cost by $20M, official says

  • Article by: PAT DOYLE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 23, 2012 - 11:27 PM

The controversy could also delay selection of an engineering firm to design the Southwest Corridor line.

Abandoning plans to give an engineering contract for the Southwest Corridor light rail to a firm linked to the Sabo bridge breakdown could cost an additional $20 million, an official involved in planning the line said Monday.

Steve Elkins, chairman of a transportation panel for the Metropolitan Council, the agency building the line, opposed an effort to carve up a $94 million contract rather than award it to URS Corp., the firm that designed the Martin Olav Sabo pedestrian and bicycle bridge.

"I ... intend to vote against this proposal," Elkins said at a meeting of the panel.

Elkins and other Met Council members are poised to act this week on a new recommendation from its staff to award four smaller contracts, including one that would go to a firm that would oversee the engineering work.

The new plan is expected to delay the process for selecting an engineer for the Southwest Corridor light rail by half a year. The transit project could end up costing an extra $20 million "if we push this out another six months," Elkins said.

And the separate contract for oversight could add still more millions to the cost. Elkins raised doubts about its value, noting that an engineering firm hired to monitor the work of another engineering firm might simply apply the same standards.

"Then a second set of eyes isn't going to help," he said.

But others on the transportation committee indicated that they support the new plan to break up the contracts.

"We owe it to the public to put in another set of eyes," said council member Jennifer Munt.

Council member James Brimeyer said, "I don't like the delay either," but added that the new plan had the advantage of removing a cloud over the engineering work.

"We did get caught between a rock and hard place on this whole deal," Brimeyer said, noting that the earlier plan to go with URS made sense until "other factors ... dropped in our laps."

Potential delays pondered

The agency had been negotiating for months with URS after receiving bids last December from the company and from AECOM of Los Angeles, which has done similar work on the Central Corridor light-rail line under construction between Minneapolis and St. Paul.

But a report released June 29 on the Sabo bridge breakdown said the effects of wind-induced vibrations of bridge cables were not considered in the original design calculations by URS. While the bridge was monitored after construction for cable vibrations, no concerns were identified.

Vibrations caused by the wind this year broke cable plates, leading to the bridge's being shut down for several months.

In calculating the cost, Elkins noted that a year delay in such a project is often priced at $40 million.

However, Met Council transit official Mark Fuhrmann told council members on the panel that it was possible the delay in selecting a firm could be erased by speeding up other stages of the project and that the line could open as scheduled in 2018.

The panel did not vote on the plan, but sent it to the full council, which is expected to weigh it on Wednesday.

Pat Doyle • 612-673-4504

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