The city of Dallas has decided to re-begin its competition for a drainage tunnel prime contract in the east section of the city that, over the years, has suffered during flooding in the Trinity River watershed.

The Dallas City Council voted 13-2 on June 15th to solicit new bids, rejecting plans by city officials to award the tunnel project to Southland Mole, a firm that appears to be formed by Mole Constructors Inc., Beachwood, Ohio, and its parent company, Southland Holdings, LLC, Roanoke, Texas.  Southland Mole was second-low, at $209,537,742.00, when competitors submitted bids in December.

The project involves a concrete five-mile-long tunnel, 70 ft to 150 ft deep, with an excavated diameter of 32.5 ft.

The decision to start a new round of bidding came after a report by the city auditor alleging Dallas officials had failed to properly conduct a review process that led to Southland Mole’s selection.

Still, Southland Mole is not the only unhappy competitor. The U.S. subsidiary of Brazilian tunnel giant Odebrecht, Odebrecht Construction Inc., had been the low bidder on the contract, at $189,246,994.00. But a presentation on the project on a Dallas website states that the city's project team and consultants considered Odebrecht Construction's low bid to be "non-responsible due to lack of tunnel experience."

The exact cause for Odebrecht Construction’s disqualification could not immediately be confirmed by ENR, but apparently all of the parent company's tunneling experience was not counted in the final evaluation.

Short-Lived Victory

Southland Mole’s apparent victory was short-lived. The auditor’s report, in addition to faulting the city for failing to document parts of its review of Southland Mole’s qualifications and various inconsistencies in its evaluations. But the project staff, part of the Trinity Watershed Management unit, provided a detailed rebuttal to the auditor's criticisms, asserting that it and the project's consultants had reviewed everything, including Southland Mole's safety record and insurance data.

Now Southland Mole finds itself back at square one. Undaunted, the company says it plans to compete again for the drainage tunnel project in the coming months.

“We are obviously disappointed but we feel like we are in a good position moving forward,” said Tim Winn, a director of Southland Holdings. “We met all the qualifications.”

One of the tunnel’s purposes is to stop flooding that in the past has shut down Baylor University Medical Center.

“It’s a serious project and it’s needed for sure,” Winn said.

This story was revised July 5 to correct the name of Odebrecht Construction, clarify as much as possible the reasons for the disqualification of bids by that company and Southland Mole and show that the flood-control challenges involved stormwater drainage in part of the Trinity River watershed.