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I-35W bridge will soar over river

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Design unveiled, MnDOT rejects arguments of losing bidders

By Brian Bakst

Associated Press

ST. PAUL — A soaring yet simple concrete bridge set atop 70-foot, land-based piers will replace the collapsed Interstate 35W bridge over the Mississippi River.

Conceptual renderings were made public Monday by the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the companies it had hired to build the replacement bridge, which combines twin five-lane spans.

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"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 highly durable concrete, built-in sensors for monitoring its structural integrity and multiple backup systems, which were absent in the steel bridge that collapsed.

A ceremonial groundbreaking is likely to be 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 Minnesota, will build it. The contract requires completion by Christmas Eve 2008, although the builders can earn multimillion-dollar bonuses for finishing sooner.

Losing bidders’ protest rejected

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, the Department of Administration’s contracts manager, Betsy Hayes, and its chief procurement officer, Kent Allin, wrote that nothing in the bidding process was "arbitrary or capricious," as the protesters alleged.

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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."

Jon Chiglo, MnDOT’s project manager for the bridge replacement, said the 27 members of the panel that evaluated the technical aspects of the bridge proposals were not told about their proposed cost or schedule.

Dean Thomson, an attorney for the protesting bidders, said the parties were "disappointed" with the Department of Administration report and would review it before deciding whether to take further steps.

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. The report, however, concluded no evidence existed that MnDOT was predisposed to select a concrete bridge.

"There was no preference for concrete or steel in our discussions or within the proposal process," Chiglo said.

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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.

Modern and traditional

Figg said the goal was to design a bridge that blends the modern feel of the nearby Guthrie Theatre and the more traditional Stone Arch Bridge adjacent to it. It will be built to accommodate a light rail transit line in the future and a possible suspension bridge underneath for pedestrian traffic. The plan also calls for parks with observation decks below the bridge.

Although the start of construction is inching closer, the public still has a chance to affect the final look.

A full-day community forum will be held sometime this month where selected participants can vote on the appearance of the support piers, a memorial to the fallen bridge and other aesthetic features.

Associated Press writers Steve Karnowski and Joshua Freed contributed to this report.

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