Two losing contractors file protest over 35W bidding process

Fallen bridge
Crews have been removing wreckage of the collapsed 35W bridge from downtown Minneapolis.
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An attorney representing C.S. McCrossan and Ames/Lunda filed a protest letter to the Minnesota Department of Administration, saying his clients would have put forward different proposals had they not been misdirected by MnDOT officials.

MnDOT awarded the project to Colorado-based Flatiron Constructors earlier this week, even though its proposal was the most expensive and will take the longest to build.

Flatiron's proposal was nearly $234 million, $56 million more than C.S. McCrossan -- the lowest bidder. C.S. McCrossan's bid was also 70 days shorter than the bid put forward by Flatiron.

Dean Thomson, the attorney representing both losing bidders, wrote that MnDOT's selection of Flatiron indicates the department based its award on criteria different than what was expressed to C.S. McCrossan and Ames/Lunda.

"We think it was done according to state law, and it was a very thorough process and a very fair process."

"The public interest suffers as a result of the decision," Thomson wrote. He said the two teams could have put forward proposals similar to Flatiron's, for less money and with a shorter time period, had it not been for MnDOT's misdirection.

MnDOT spokesman Kevin Gutknecht declined to answer questions on the protest letter beyond this statement.

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"We haven't had time to really evaluate it, although we stand by the process. We think it was done according to state law, and it was a very thorough process and a very fair process," said Gutknecht.

MnDOT officials have declined to release any details on any of the proposals or the selection process, and won't until a final contract is signed.

The selection process included many factors, including cost, time of construction and a technical proposal score. That technical proposal score is a rating provided by a team of six people who examined all four proposals.

MnDOT officials say the technical score was based on factors such as the quality of the design, public relations, safety precautions and aesthetics of the bridge. Flatiron's score was 91, which was 24 points higher than the next bidder.

It isn't known why Flatiron scored so much higher, but the losing bidders want to know why their scores were so low. Thomson's letter called the scoring for C.S. McCrossan and Ames/Lunda "arbitrary and capricious, and not supported by any credible or substantial evidence."

Since the contractors don't know why Flatiron scored higher, Thomson said he can't file a more detailed protest letter.

Thomson is asking MnDOT to release all of its scoring, notes and comments regarding the capabilities of the two losing teams. He said failing to release the details until after the contract is signed would preclude any oversight of the proposal.

It is not known whether the losing contractors will file a lawsuit. When asked if the protest could affect the construction timetable, MnDOT spokesman Kevin Gutknecht said he didn't know because department officials haven't yet examined the letter.