The top transportation official in Louisiana, William D. Ankner, resigned on Feb. 5 amid controversy following the award of a design-build job to the contractor with the best technical proposal but the highest price among three bidders.

The Louisiana Dept. of Transportation and Development awarded the $60-million contract on Jan. 29 to Boh Bros. Construction LLC for an Interstate 10 widening project in Baton Rouge.

Ankner’s resignation came following a grueling, three-hour debate on Feb. 4 in the Louisiana Legislature’s joint meeting of the House and Senate transportation committees; there, lawmakers and contractors protested the award and whether the design-build process benefits the state.

The design-build process was necessary to deliver the project within the time constraints dictated by the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Ankner says. Boh’s $59.9-million, 1,064-day proposal to widen a stretch of I-10 to six lanes also includes replacement of a 44-year-old bridge over the Kansas City Southern railroad.

Coastal Bridge Co., Baton Rouge, which protested the state’s decision, proposed a $55-million, 775-day bid that included rehabilitation and widening of the bridge.

The Boh team, which includes James Construction Group LLC, Baton Rouge, and Volkert & Associates Inc., Mobile, Ala., had a higher technical score than the other bidders, which resulted in the lowest final adjusted score.

Coastal Bridge considered the bridge OK, based on state information. “We based our bid on the information we had from the DOTD inspection report, which rated it eight out of 10 and said the existing bridge was in pretty good shape,” says Robert Overall, president.

Ankner pointed out that the bridge rating was from 2007 and that, “obviously, it’s not in as great a shape as Coastal contends,” as evidenced by Coastal’s numerous proposed repairs.

“I believe that a new bridge is the best transportation investment for the state,” Ankner says. “The new bridge will have a longer service life than a widened bridge would, and that means it is a better choice for the long-term value of the state’s infrastructure.”

Boh Bros. says the selection process was fair. “Rather than being the source of controversy, this should be held up as an example of DOTD receiving excellent value through the design-build process,” says Robert S. Boh, company president. He says the process was rigorous, “objective and transparent, so we are surprised that our team’s bid...would be perceived negatively.”

The use of design-build in Louisiana, however, could face changes. DOTD interim Secretary Sherri LeBas announced on Feb. 8 the department would extend the deadline to submit proposals for another design-build project “in order to address some of the specific issues” that were brought up in the Legislature.