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Rebid of Wakota bridge goes to same company, for the same money

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When it's finished...
The Wakota bridge, which carries I-494 traffic over the Mississippi River in the southeastern metro, will look like this after it's rebuilt. The project is now half completed.
Image courtesy of MnDOT

The Minnesota Department of Transportation opened bids Friday for construction of the eastbound stretch of the Wakota Bridge on Interstate 494 between South St. Paul and Newport. 

The apparent winning bid is from the same company that was building the bridge when MnDOT halted construction in 2004, Lunda Construction -- and for virtually the same amount of money -- $60 million. 

The bridge is now scheduled for completion in fall of 2010. It was originally scheduled to be finished by the end of 2007. 

MnDOT halted construction the westbound span in 2004, after they discovered a design flaw that required a redesign. That pushed back the project by a year. 

The Wakota bridge project
The state opened new bids Friday for completion of the eastbound span of the I-494 bridge over the Mississippi River. It's expected to be completed in 2010.
Photo courtesy of MnDOT

In November 2006, MnDOT chose to cancel its contract with Lunda Construction for the eastbound span after reaching an impasse with Lunda over how much additional money it would take to build the second span. 

At that time, Lunda said it would cost $60 million, but MnDOT contended that was too high, and decided to rebid that portion of the project. 

An independent mediation board ruled in August 2007 that Transportation Commissioner Carol Molnau improperly halted construction of the bridge, and put MnDOT in breach of contract with Lunda by refusing to explain why. 

Molnau said Friday she stands by her actions. 

"When protracted negotiations failed to produce a fair settlement to build the eastbound Wakota Bridge, I felt an open and competitive rebidding of this portion of the overall project was the only responsible action, to protect the interests of Minnesota taxpayers and the propriety of the state's contracting processes," Molnau said.

DFL lawmakers blasted the delay, and the process that led back to Lunda. 

"Lt. Gov. Molnau never achieved her goal of saving taxpayer money on the Wakota bridge project," said House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher. "Today's news reaffirms the decision of the independent mediation board, which found MnDOT was wrong to stop construction on a half-finished bridge."

Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights,  who chairs the House Commerce and Labor Committee, has been investigating the project.

"By MnDOT's own estimates, this ongoing and unconscionable delay is costing Minnesota commuters $36,000 every day the Wakota bridge sits incomplete, on top of what it will cost to meet these higher bids," he said. "MnDOT's bungling of this project has wasted valuable time and money. Minnesotans simply can't afford this delay any longer."

The  Commerce Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday, Jan. 29 to review MnDOT's bidding process, and discuss MnDOT's progress on the bridge.

MnDOT received four bids for the project, including the apparent low bid of $60.1 presented by Lunda Construction. Once the bid is certified and awarded, construction will begin in spring 2008.  

The other three bidders were Edward & Sons, $63 million; Ames Construction, $62.2 million; Flat Iron Constructors, $118.3 million; and Lunda Construction, $60.1 million.

When complete, the eastbound construction will complement the westbound span, which was completed in 2006 and is currently carrying six lanes of two-way traffic.