Some contractors are asking why they weren't allow to bid for the right to demolish the Rock Island Swing Bridge, a decaying structure that once linked Washington and Dakota counties.

Pending approval today by the Washington County board, the job will go to Veit Specialty Contracting of Rogers for about $1.3 million, said Don Theisen, the county's chief engineer. Veit, he said, submitted the lowest "sealed quote" of six contractors that the Minnesota Department of Transportation invited to participate. Three of the six submitted quotes.

"We just didn't have the time to go out and do all the public bidding," Theisen said Monday. "We've got to take care of the public safety hazard." A portion of the Washington County side of the bridge, which has no longer has public access, collapsed last fall and led to the county board's emergency declaration in December.

But one of the contractors who was told he couldn't bid, Matt Coz of Rachel Contracting in Osseo, said nearly every structure in the metro area headed for demolition could qualify as an emergency. He wonders what was different about the Rock Island bridge.

What bothered him most, he said, was that he wasn't allowed to submit a plan to show how his company was qualified to do the job.

Another contractor, Nick Linnemann of Landwehr Construction Inc. in St. Cloud, questioned how Washington County could spend public money on a project without open bidding. Money to demolish the Rock Island Bridge will come from state disaster funds.

But Theisen said that in the Rock Island demolition, no company was "handpicked" to receive the award. The county's plan is to remove the Washington County portion of the bridge, and the swing portion in the middle of the Mississippi River at St. Paul Park, by the time the barge shipping season starts in March.

George Kuprian, the assistant county attorney who advises the county board, said state law allows commissioners to declare a bridge emergency and bypass a bidding process when a delay in action would threaten public safety.

"The facts were that it was falling down," Kuprian said. He said it was the first time he remembers in his 20 years there that the county board voted to bypass open bidding.

Theisen said the county asked MnDOT to select companies with experience in large-scale bridge removal. Quotes from the three firms that submitted prices, he said, were opened Friday. "We still got competition and got an excellent price," he said. Earlier estimates ranged up to $4 million.

Removal of the deteriorating bridge that once ferried automobiles and trains across the river between St. Paul Park and Inver Grove Heights has been discussed for years. Most recently known as JAR Bridge, the double-decker structure was closed to trains in 1980 and vehicle traffic in 1999.

Veit Specialty Contracting's past demolitions include the St. Paul Civic Center and 165 missile launch sites in North Dakota.

Kevin Giles • 612-673-4432