Rewarding Failure

Not long before the 35W bridge collapsed, the bridge was inspected by an engineering company that gave the bridge – and its ailing gussets – a clean bill of heath.

And we know how that turned out.

Last week, a couple of cables on the Sabo pedestrian/bike bridge snapped, closing the bridge and, for several days, the Ventura Trolley.

The incidents have one thing in common; the inspectors on the old 35W bridge and the engineering consultants on the Sabo were URS Corporation of San Francisco.

What better way to hold an engineering company with this kind of track record accountable than award it a consulting contract for the state’s next big make-work money pit project?

That’s right – Mark Dayton’s Met Council is in negotiations with URS to consult on their Southwest Light Rail line   According to a source in the engineering industry with direct knowledge of the Southwest LRT bidding process, the Met has gone through a round of cuts in selecting engineers, andURS is one of the contenders, if not the finalist, to get the job; the source used the term “final negotiations”.

I sent a request for information to the Met Council over the weekend, specifically asking what stage the Council was at, what firms were in contention, and if URS was one of them.  I got the following response on Sunday afternoon:

The Metropolitan Council is in the midst of evaluating proposals for the preliminary engineering contract for Southwest LRT with a recommendation to the Met Council targeted for mid-March.

I’ll give ’em points for speed.  But it didn’t really answer the question.

Let’s leave aside for a moment whether the SWLRT is a good idea (although it’s not); With the collapse of so much civil and government infrastructure work, local civil engineering firms are hurting; those firms employ a lot of good people.  At least one local firm was counted out of the race to work on the new LRT project, while San Francisco’s URS, with its record of failure on local projects, is apparently still in the running.

Why is the Dayton Administration denying work to local firms in favor of a San Francisco firm with two strikes against it in local civil engineering circles?

I’ll try the Met Council again later today, to see if they want the public to know what firms are in, what firms are out, and where they’re from.

13 thoughts on “Rewarding Failure

  1. I used to get just as incensed when road construction contracts were awarded to Lunda Construction of Black River Falls, WI. I learned from a former inside source that they won all of their bids because the labor portion was the low item, thereby bringing down the total cost of the bid. Why was labor cheaper? Strictly because of Minnesota’s higher Workman’s Comp costs. I would also bet that, even though it isn’t supposed to, the union scale in WI is lower than the Twin Cities.

  2. Boss – I would be skeptical of the idea that a Wisconsin company would have lower workers comp costs that would make that much of a difference in a bid Those rates are normally set by industry not where you are located. They would also have to pay prevailing wage at MN rates, not WI rates. Regardless, sometimes contractors will bid at or below cost with the understanding that the inevitiable change orders and last minute extras will provide the profit on the job.
    Regardless, I would imagine that the finger pointing has just begun. I agree with Mitch that this firm should be suspended from doing work until the cause is determined. Remember, though, the 35W bridge was inspected by MNDoT inspectors as well who found no significant issues.
    Maybe it’s time to put Gary Keillors theory to work – all of our engineering firms are above average and should get all the work.

  3. Dang. Didn’t mean to use regardless twice in the previous comment. Need to hire a Minnesota based proofreader.

  4. Regardless, using the same company to construct something when their demonstrated incompetence is available for all to see is the clinical definition of insanity, isn’t it?

    Rebid of Wakota bridge goes to same company, for the same money
    January 25, 2008

    “St. Paul, Minn. — 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”

    Dont even get me started on the Lowry Bridge….

    Dan K

  6. “Regardless, using the same company to construct something when their demonstrated incompetence is available for all to see is the clinical definition of insanity, isn’t it?”

    I think it’s the clinical definition of government …

  7. Seflores;

    Forgot about the old change orders ploy. I used to lose bids for low voltage cabling to those types of contractors. Unfortunately, even though my assertions to the customer that it would happen always were proven to be correct, most of them still went with the low bidder.

  8. Michael Ciresi: Your State needs you. Big Tobacco tried to do us in but failed. But now… Big Engineering has its mitts on us…and besides, another score could finance another Senate run, or…Governor?

  9. Michael Sogreasy would never be elected governor. That would be as ridiculas as electing failed Senator Mark Dayton And that could never happen.

  10. Pingback: February’s News In April | Shot in the Dark

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