The $800-million “signature bridge” that the state of Florida promised the people of Miami is distinguishing itself in another way: as a bitterly contested best-value procurement. Florida transportation officials are aggressively defending the process against Miami-based critics who prefer a runner-up Fluor-led joint venture that has filed a protest after losing the selection process by 0.53 points out of a possible 90. The protest essentially says the Florida Dept. of Transportation gamed the scoring system to steer the award to its preferred choice, a design by an Archer Western-de Moya Group venture that also promised completion one year earlier than its closest rival.
There is no basis for the idea that FDOT effectively overrode an unusual scoring system that gave great weight to aesthetics, said James Wolfe, FDOT’s District 6 secretary. In denying the contract to the joint venture of Fluor-Astaldi-MCM, FDOT followed the same procedures that were first laid out in the request for proposals, Wolfe averred.
FDOT came up with the aesthetic-heavy scoring system after a previous court settlement with neighborhood and city critics mandated a signature bridge for a key stretch of the city’s skyline and downtown.
The aim of the proposed bridge-and-highway reconstruction project is to replace a low-slung, 1960s-era expressway that cuts through the historically black Overtown neighborhood in downtown Miami. The new bridge and associated roadwork is expected to open up acres of land for parks and other public uses while helping reconnect the neighborhood.
The original February 2016 RFP “laid out exactly how we would do the selection process and how we would do the scoring,” Wolfe said. “That is what we carried out all the way down the line.”
FDOT came up with the aesthetic-heavy scoring system after a previous court settlement with neighborhood and city critics mandated a signature bridge for a key stretch of the city’s skyline and downtown. Contrary to FDOT, critics contend the original plan was to have the aesthetics panel vote on its own. The panel, made up of mostly community representatives, heavily favored the Fluor team’s design. Supporters contend Fluor-Astaldi-MCM’s design—a pair of support pylons that resemble dancers with upraised arms, a design that plays off the nearby Arsht Center for the Performing Arts—does a better job of fulfilling promises by local and state officials for an architecturally distinctive bridge.
For its part, Archer Western-de Moya’s proposal features a six-arch suspension bridge designed to suggest a fountain of water gushing forth over Biscayne Boulevard.
But when it came to a vote on the proposed bridge designs, FDOT combined the aesthetics panel and its four community representatives with a technical panel comprising five government engineers.
That move diluted the votes of the community representatives and helped to ensure the Archer Western-de Moya team would win the overall score by the slimmest of margins, even though it had not been rated as highly for design, critics contend.
Marc Sarnoff, a former Miami city commissioner who helped to lead the previous legal charge, said he is now preparing a new court challenge. “My issue is the process,” Sarnoff said, comparing FDOT to a dishonest butcher placing a thumb on the scale.
Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado says the winning plan complies with the state’s agreement. Wolfe said the voting process in the original RFP never called for the aesthetics and technical panels to vote separately, as critics believe. He disputed claims that the winning team racked up points with an unrealistic timetable. And Contractor A.J. de Moya, Archer Western’s joint-venture partner, said he is confident in the four-year timeline, noting $15 million will be spent on temporary bridges that will help to ease traffic and speed up work. “We have invested three years in this process and we won,” de Moya said. “We will fight to the end.”