State agency recommends against protest by losing bridge bidders

Audubon Bridge
An artist's gendering of the John James Audubon Bridge, a Flatiron Construction project.
Image courtesy of www.timedla.com

(AP) - A protest by two losing bidders for the Interstate 35W bridge replacement should be rejected, the state agency that oversees contracts said Monday.

C.S. McCrossan Construction and a joint team of Ames Construction and Lunda Construction had argued that the bidding process was flawed.

They lost despite submitting a cheaper bid, with a shorter timetable, than the winning bid of nearly $234 million from the team of Flatiron Constructors and Manson Construction.

In a 17-page opinion Monday, contracts manager Betsy Hayes and chief procurement officer Kent Allin wrote that nothing in the bidding process was "arbitrary or capricious," as the protesters alleged.

Their report said all six of the technical evaluators who examined the proposal rated the Flatiron proposal "significantly higher" than the others.

It said "reasonable people" could conclude that the advantages of Flatiron's proposal are worth the extra costs. And it said all evidence is that the bids were evaluated with "seriousness of purpose, professionalism and integrity."

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"No procurement process of this magnitude and complexity is perfect," the report said. "Too many variables, both human and technical, are in play. But perfection is not required. If it were, state work could never proceed."

The final decision on the protest will be made by Transportation Commissioner Carol Molnau. MnDOT has not yet signed a final contract with Flatiron, which the agency still officially describes as the "apparent bid winner."

Dean Thomson, an attorney for the protesting bidders, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

The Aug. 1 bridge collapse killed 13 people and injured about 100. MnDOT issued its request for proposals for a replacement Aug. 23, with a goal of opening the new bridge by the end of 2008.

When they filed their protest last month, the losing bidders said they were misled into believing that the cost and construction schedule were the most important criteria. But Monday's report said MNDOT's request for proposals detailed other essential criteria as well and how all the various elements would be weighed to determine the winner.

The losing bidders alleged that MnDOT preferred a concrete bridge over a steel bridge, but didn't say so in its specifications. But the report concluded there was no evidence that MnDOT was predisposed to select a concrete bridge.

The losing bidders also complained that the proposals shouldn't have been evaluated on public relations and aesthetics grounds. The report said Flatiron would have finished first even if they weren't.

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