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MnDOT under fire for contractor selection

Brian Johnson//April 13, 2016

MnDOT under fire for contractor selection

Brian Johnson//April 13, 2016

The Minnesota Department of Transportation hasn’t awarded a contract yet for the $80 million Highway 169 Nine Mile Creek project, but it’s already taking heat for its means of coming up with a “short list” of contractors that will be allowed to bid.

During a meeting of the House Transportation Policy and Finance Committee on Monday, critics said the “best value” selection process lacks objectivity and transparency and, in this case, disqualified an experienced contractor, Maple Grove-based McCrossan.

McCrossan submitted a proposal for the work but didn’t make the final cut. The contractor has filed a protest with the state’s Department of Administration, which is expected to make a ruling in two to three weeks, MnDOT design-build manager Peter Davich said.

McCrossan’s goal is to be reinstated as a qualified bidder.

MnDOT officials are standing by the process.

Nancy Daubenberger, MnDOT’s assistant commissioner for engineering services, said at Monday’s hearing that a five-member selection panel with a third-party representative scored the proposals, and that the selection criteria are clearly spelled out.

The technical score is based on the contractor’s plans for environmental management, geotechnical considerations, schedule and proposed substantial completion date.

Construction attorney Dean Thomson said the “arbitrary and capricious” process resulted in the disqualification of a highly qualified contractor, which is “a detriment to the taxpaying public.”

Thomson, a shareholder with the Fabyanske Westra Hart & Thomson law firm in Minneapolis, noted that McCrossan led the $300 million Blue Line light rail transit line and has worked on numerous other big MnDOT projects.

Thomson said he chose to testify as a “member of the public” and not on behalf of any contractor or association. But he has criticized MnDOT’s contractor-selection process in the past.

In 2007, for example, he represented two plaintiffs “with ties to the local construction industry” in a lawsuit against MnDOT over its decision to award the Interstate 35W bridge project to Colorado-based Flatiron in a “design-build best value” process.

The four finalists for the Highway 169 Nine Mile Creek project are Burnsville-based Ames Construction, Kiewit Infrastructure Co. of Omaha, Wisconsin-based Kraemer North America, and Lunda Construction of Black River Falls, Wisconsin.

McCrossan’s scores among the five evaluators on the selection committee ranged from 53.50 to 81.70 (out of a possible 100). The other scores were: Ames (82.35 to 94.90), Kiewit (82.25 to 95.80), Kraemer (76.65 to 95.25) and Lunda (76.45 to 94.50).

Davich said there was “not one big thing” that stood out as to why McCrossan had a lower technical score, but rather a lot of little things.

“It was death by a thousand paper cuts,” he said.

Rep. Mark Uglem, R-Champlin, said during the committee hearing that most taxpayers are led to believe that the best bid always gets the work.

“This has been eye-opening to me with the different methods and scoring,” he said. “I think it’s very troubling from a transparency standpoint. I think there is good room for improvement.”

The Highway 169 Nine Mile Creek project cuts through Golden Valley, Plymouth, St. Louis Park Minnetonka, Hopkins, and Edina. It’s scheduled to begin in November and run through November 2017.

The project includes replacement of the bridge over Nine Mile Creek in Hopkins, Minnetonka, and Edina, and reconstruction of 6 miles of Highway 169 pavement between Highways 55 and 62, among other upgrades.

A contractor is expected to be chosen in July.

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