Wednesday, October 10, 2007

MnDOT Unveils 35W Bridge Designs

A soaring yet spartan concrete bridge set atop 70-foot piers will replace the collapsed Interstate 35W bridge over the Mississippi River. Conceptual drawings were made public Monday by the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the companies it hired to build the replacement bridge, which actually comprises twin five-lane spans. "It is a sculptural bridge where the form and the function work with proportion and elegance to create a model for other bridges in America," said Linda Figg, president of the FIGG Bridge Engineers design firm. From a safety standpoint, the new bridge will include high-tech monitors and multiple backup systems that were absent in the collapsed steel bridge. A ceremonial groundbreaking is likely next week, but the heavy work probably won't start until November, said Peter Sanderson, the project manager for Flatiron Constructors Inc. Flatiron and Manson Construction Co., both headquartered outside of Minnesota, will build it. The unveiling came just a few hours after another state agency recommended rejection of a protest by two losing bidders. 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. 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." "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." 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.