Category: I-35 Bridge
Posted: 10/25/07 15:13
by Dave Mindeman
An October 3rd Star Tribune article about the I-35 Bridge Bidding process posed a question for its headline:Were Savvy Bridge Firms Duped or Outsmarted?
The answer is not either/or... it is Yes and Yes.
I may be the only person crazy enough to read through all the documents involved with the bridge bidding process and the protest reconciliation report from the Dept. of Administration, but I did.... and although it is not explicit, there is an underlying MnDOT desperation in how this process was laid out and executed.
I believe the reasons for the affirmative answers to the above question, lies within the MnDOT department itself. A department very defensive about the bridge disaster and their detriorating public perception. And a department also intent on making sure that nothing about this new project be left to chance.
The question that immediately arises from the end game is:
How could prominent construction companies with local Minnesota ties and a wealth of experience in MnDOT bids lose a major contract to a large international company with a fine resume but absolutely no past experience with construction in Minnesota?
The first complication comes from the scoring formula:
A + B X $200,000 per day/ Divided by TPS
A = Bid Price
B = Time to Completion
TPS = Technical Proposal Score
The formula enhances any disparity in the technical aspects of the formula. It looks like FlatIron recognized this from the outset because:
A) They went with the maximum days allowed by MnDOT for completion of the project -- 437.
B) Their monetary bid was in the upper range of the MnDOT estimates for cost. MnDOT estimates were $200,000 to $250,000. Two of the other firms went well below the $200,000 figure -- while FlatIron went to the higher end with nearly $234,000.
C) The technical aspects were heavily dependent on "narrative" presentation. FlatIron must have developed a very descriptive and flashy presentation because they scored higher in nearly every technical aspect of the formula.
What is puzzling about the technical scoring is that FlatIron always got high marks despite the fact that MnDOT has no experience with any aspect of the team -- yet they have had a wealth of experience with the others. Could MnDOT and the other evaluators been so distracted by the words and presentation of the FlatIron team as to disregard the very relevant knowledge of first hand experience with the other bidders?
FlatIron could only show the evaluators their past work and any recommendations that they would bring to the process. Yet, they have never worked in Minnesota.... and have never worked in weather conditions like ours. Most of their past projects have been in Colorado, California, and Florida. How do we really know they can deliver in sub-zero weather?
It also seems obvious that the other firms were not expecting such emphasis on technical scores. The firms have been through other MnDOT bids many times -- it seems obvious that they were taken unaware by the formula used here.
Now, the Dept of Administration, in its protest report, states that all parties were clearly aware of how the TPS would be arrived at. All parties received the same outline of how it would work.
But, here is an excerpt of the wording I saw:220.127.116.11.3 SAFETY (10%)
The Proposal shall include the Proposer's approach and commitments towards to implementing a safety incentive program on the Project.
Pretty broad statement, open to wide interpetation. FlatIron, ironically, didn't do so well in the safety evaluation -- getting the highest score from only 2 of the 6 evaluators... but overall they were still close to the top.
But other aspects of the scoring were defined with similar vague statements. FlatIron's bidding team obviously had the writers and the flash to impress the evaluators... because they ended up with a TPS score of 91.47. The closest score to that came from Walsh at 67.88.
This process really was too arbitrary and the lawsuit that is currently proceeding will argue that very point. MnDOT hides behind the statutes as their defense, but a design/build process doesn't set the scoring system. That comes from the evaluators.
The law states that the actual monetary bid has to account for 40% of the score -- it is hard to factor that into this formula -- but I am sure MnDOT can defend it. They seem to be getting good at being defensive.
The point is that MnDOT should have simplified this process and at least given first hand experience some credit. Because of all the confusion and mistrust, we are about to have more delays. The process that was supposed to get I-35 up and running quickly is now mired in a legal morass that nobody will win.
Minnesota deserves better.