As Republican and DFL legislators traded jabs over the delayed Wakota Bridge project, state Transportation Commissioner Carol Molnau on Tuesday defended her 2006 decision to seek new bids and said that the "proper course of action is not always the fastest."

Even though the same contractor fired from the massive bridge construction project won the rebidding Friday to finish it, Molnau said that the project might not have been able to move forward any other way.

Still, Molnau asked the committee to have the legislative auditor review the Minnesota Department of Transportation's decision to rebid the contract. Legislative Auditor James Nobles said his office, which had not yet received a formal request, would consider studying the issue.

DFLers, led by Rep. Joe Atkins of Inver Grove Heights, said that the rebidding had delayed the project by 14 months, increased its cost and in the end meant MnDOT will likely have the same contractor -- Lunda Construction Co. -- finish the remaining eastbound span.

"The Wakota Bridge appears to be under the direction of Britney Spears," said Atkins. "About every time we turn around something else crazy and inexplicable happens."

At Tuesday's hearing before the House Commerce and Labor Committee, of which Atkins is chairman, Atkins produced a video presentation that he said put the Wakota Bridge among the "most bungled bridges in America" because of its delays and cost overruns.

Republicans, however, accused Atkins of grandstanding. Rep. Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said Atkins' committee was spending public money investigating something that it may have little jurisdiction over.

"Are we here for 'The Moment of Truth' television show, where we're going to hook up people to a lie-detector?" Zellers said. "To me, it brings up the question of why we're here, why we're spending taxpayers' money."

The hearing came four days after Lunda Construction, with a $60.1 million total, was the apparent low bidder to finish the bridge's eastbound span. While MnDOT officials have acknowledged the project's long delays, they said Lunda's bid would enable the project to restart as early as April and be complete in September 2010.

Molnau cancelled Lunda's original contract in late 2006 after a series of cost overruns and after Lunda offered to complete the project for no more than $58.9 million. An independent mediation board later ruled that MnDOT had acted improperly and said the agency had breached its contract with the company.

"We feel that we've done nothing wrong," Larry Lunda, Lunda's president, told the committee Tuesday. "We're reeling from all the bad press we've received."

Mike Kaszuba • 612-673-4388