Met Council delays action on light-rail contract

  • Article by: PAT DOYLE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 24, 2012 - 12:30 AM

The holdup comes a week after Gov. Dayton expressed concerns about awarding the contract to URS Corp.

Amid concerns of the governor, the agency overseeing transit has delayed action on awarding a major contract for building the proposed Southwest Corridor light-rail line.

Gov. Mark Dayton last week expressed concern that the Metropolitan Council was about to award the contract to URS Corp. of San Francisco. The firm had been criticized for work on the old Interstate 35W bridge before it collapsed in 2007.

The issue was expected to come up Monday at an agency transportation meeting. One council member had said a vote could be taken on a recommendation by its staff. But action has been indefinitely postponed.

"I guess they're not done evaluating," Council Member James Brimeyer said Friday.

Other council members did not respond Friday to requests for comment. Spokesperson Meredith Salsbery said, "it is not on the ... meeting agenda because the contract negotiations are not finished. Another date has not yet been set."

The Met Council has been evaluating proposals and negotiating with URS and AECOM Technology Corp. of Los Angeles for up to $100 million of engineering work on the Southwest Corridor line. It will run 15 miles from downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie.

Met Council members, the agency's policymakers, said last week that their staff hadn't told them the names of the companies under consideration for the contract. The agency released the names in response to a request from the Star Tribune.

While the Met Council won't comment on the evaluations and negotiations, Dayton spokesperson Katharine Tinucci said last week the agency and URS had reached a tentative agreement and that "the governor has very strong concerns about the state doing business with URS."

Tinucci said Dayton had expressed those concerns to Met Council Chair Susan Haigh. He appointed her and other members of the council.

During the 2010 campaign for governor, candidate Dayton vowed to issue an executive order barring URS from state contracts, at least until lawsuits over the bridge collapse were settled. A couple of months later the firm paid $52.4 million to settle suits brought for killed or injured motorists.

URS has stressed that it wasn't involved in the design of the I-35W bridge, only as a consultant to the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Troublesome timing

The concerns about URS getting the contract come as the Met Council faces a difficult task gaining legislative support for funding the Southwest line. A House panel last week rejected a bid by Dayton for $25 million to help pay for the engineering contract, although the proposal remains alive.

Meanwhile, Republicans who have accused the Met Council staff of lacking accountability are proposing overhauling the structure of the agency, which oversees Twin Cities transit. A bill sponsored by Rep. Mike Beard, R-Shakopee, will be heard on Monday.

It would create new panels of elected county, city or town officials and give them the power over transit currently held by the Met Council, whose members are not elected officials. The members of the new panels would be appointed by counties and the governor.

Pat Doyle • 612-673-4504

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