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Losing bidders on I-35W bridge project won't miss out entirely

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A view of the collapsed 35W bridge from the nearby 10th Ave. bridge.
MPR Photo/Roseanne Pereira

(AP) - Next week, four teams bidding to replace the fallen Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis will learn which has the inside track on a project that could be worth $250 million. 

      But even the losers won't walk away empty-handed.

      The Minnesota Department of Transportation is ready to pay $500,000 to each of the unsuccessful bidders, which a spokesman said is the largest stipend the agency has ever offered. 

If they accept the money - they are free to turn it down - the department gets the right to use any ideas losing teams submit.

"In the long term, the cost of the stipend is far outweighed in the benefit of the innovation and time savings."

      Four teams met Friday's deadline to submit design proposals and they must attach a price tag to them by Tuesday. On Wednesday, the department will open the bids. The plan is to pick the winner by the end of the month. 

The project is expected to cost between $200 million and $250 million, and the builders can earn up to $27 million in incentives for speedy completion.

      The four teams are: C.S. McCrossan Inc.; Ames Construction Inc. and Lunda Construction Co.; American Bridge Co. and Walsh Construction Co.; Flatiron Construction Corp. and Johnson Bros.

      Stipends are a common feature of design-build transportation projects, an increasingly popular approach where a contractor is responsible for both the design and construction. The money is meant to make the projects more attractive to bid on because developing a proposal can be expensive.

      Civil engineering professor Keith Molenaar of the University of Colorado at Boulder has studied the use of stipends and deems them valuable.

      "You can't ask the industry to do all these thousands of hours of work and not be compensated," he said. "I believe in the long term, the cost of the stipend is far outweighed in the benefit of the innovation and time savings."

      Three days after the Aug. 1 collapse that killed 13 people, Minnesota's transportation department issued its first call for contractors to compete to build the replacement.

 In that invitation, the agency offered a $300,000 stipend. About two weeks later the enticement was up to $400,000. Earlier this month, it rose to $500,000.

      Department spokesman Kevin Gutknecht said the stipend increase reflects heightened expectations, including a requirement that the bridge be reinforced to accommodate a future light-rail line.

      Prior to this project, Gutknecht said the richest stipend Minnesota had awarded was $425,000 for teams competing to do the Highway 52 reconstruction in and around Rochester.

      However, the I-35W bridge stipend won't even come close to big awards offered elsewhere, according to a report by transportation consultant Tom Warne, who is under contract in Minnesota to advise on the bridge project.

      Bidders in Texas were paid a $1.3 million stipend to submit plans for a $1.3 billion state highway project, and Utah and Colorado both paid $950,000 stipends on $1 billion-plus freeway projects.      

             (Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)