Tudor Van Hampton

Forensic engineers and demolition crews are still hard at work dredging up the remains of Minneapolis' I-35W bridge, but the state already is putting the finishing touches on a contract to rebuild the ill-fated crossing. Construction is set to begin by Oct. 15.

On Sept. 19, hydraulic hammers pounded holes in concrete, giant shears screeched and sliced through downed I-girders and heavy-lift cranes groaned as they muscled tangled balls of submerged rebar out of the Mississippi River.

Meanwhile, across town at its St. Paul central office, officials with the Minnesota Dept. of Transportation made some noise own their own by opening four sealed bids for a 10-lane replacement structure.

Ironically, the winning bidder offered the highest price and tied with another group for the longest construction schedule. But it still beat the competition with a "technical" grade of 91.47 out of a possible 100, nearly 24 points above the next highest bidder.


I-35W: Revisiting the Scene

Clinching the design-build deal was Longmont, Colo.-based Flatiron Constructors Inc. in joint-venture with Seattle-based Manson Construction Co. Also on the team is Orlando-based Johnson Bros., in a support role.

Leading the design effort is Tallahassee, Fla.-based Figg Bridge Engineers Inc., whose design is still a secret.

The group proposed a bridge that would take 437 calendar days to build and cost $234 million. The state solicited the fast-track project under the state's design-build procurement law. The work is expected to wrap in late 2008.

State procurement agents took the bid price, added it to a $200,000 road-use fee multiplied by the proposed schedule, and divided the sum by a "technical" grade. The lowest adjusted bid won the contract.

Though the state's "A+B" formula makes it possible for a high-price bid to "flip" into a winner, it is rare, experts say.

Value over price is the objective. "We might pay a little more when feel...we get better value based on the approach these teams are taking," says Jon Chiglo, I-35W project manager. The six-week solicitation was "intense," he adds.

Technical grades, given by a state-appointed panel of six experts, take into account bid quality, aesthetics, traffic enhancements and public outreach.

C.S. McCrossan Inc., the runner-up after adjustments, bid $177 million and estimated 367 days, with a technical score of 65.91.

Among the other losing bidders is Ames/Lunda, with a bid of $178 million, 392 days and at technical grade of 55.98.

Walsh/American Bridge, bid $219 million and 437 days. Its technical score came to 67.88.

MNDOT says it will not release bid specifics, including design drawings, until a contract is executed.

"The design will be unveiled in time," says Linda Figg, president, CEO and director of bridge art for the eponymous design firm, which is well-known in the industry for precast and cast-in-place segmental concrete bridges.

It designed the segmental-box girder Wabasha Bridge in St. Paul, with its longest span stretching 397 feet across the Mississippi River. The $35-million, four-lane bridge opened in 1998.

Demolition of the I-35W bridge, expected to wrap in November, will coincide with early construction of the new bridge.

Federal and state investigators, who expect to study the accident for at least a year, are still piecing together the wreckage in a park-turned-lay-down-yard called Bohemian Flats, located just downstream of the Aug. 1 accident that killed 13 people and injured 133.

Among the state investigators are John W. Fisher of Lehigh University, Robert J. Connor of Purdue University and TranSystems Corp.

They are working under contract with Northbrook, Ill.-based Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates Inc., which the state has retained for $2 million.

The state review is running alongside a National Transportation Safety Board probe of the accident.