The Lowry Bridge replacement project in Minneapolis will have to proceed without $10 million in federal stimulus money.
Federal officials say the money can't be used on a project with a hiring requirement. Hennepin County insisted that contractors placing bids promise to include local workers among the people building the bridge. Based on that, MnDOT officials made the decision to reallocate the funds.
On the surface the news sounds terrible, but the money is not lost, just reallocated to other state projects.
Here's what happened.
The $100 million replacement of the Lowry Bridge over the Mississippi River connecting north Minneapolis neighborhoods with ones in the northeast part of the city is underway.
Of that total, $10 million was to come from federal stimulus.
Hennepin County has an agreement with several local groups that some of the workers on the project -- many of them people of color who live in the area -- will have preference for being hired by the bridge builder.
Federal officials wouldn't comment but supplied an email explaining why they withdrew funding.
It reads in part:
"Limiting contractors to specific sources of labor is a 'local hiring preference,' which is not allowed in contracts for federally funded highway projects because it restricts competition in the bidding process."
Hennepin County administrators this week said, in effect, 'Fine, we'll go it alone and finance the bridge with mostly county bonding and state bridge funds.'
Commissioner Mark Stenglein, whose district includes the bridge, says the principle that some of the workers be local residents including people of color is important.
"The county you could say by standing on principle we lost $10 million. The state's still got those stimulus monies, they were spread among other local projects," Stenglein said.
Louis King, CEO of Summit Academy, a north Minneapolis construction training program, says the county's stand means about 15 people of color will get jobs on the Lowry bridge project.
King and others helped win an agreement with Hennepin county when the new baseball park was being built that workers of color should be a part of any county sponsored construction programs.
That agreement was extended to other projects.
King says he's pleased with the county's decision.
"This one they could have had an easy out if the feds had said 'no' and they need to get their project done, and no one would have thought poorly of them for doing that," King said. "I think they went above and beyond on this one."
Construction of the first phase of the Lowry bridge is expected to be completed next year.
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