Competitors Ready for New Minneapolis Light-Rail Bid Deadline
'Overlooked' conflict-of-interest rules spoiled a first round of bidding
Major players in the construction and engineering sectors are expected to file a new round of bids May 3rd for a long-delayed, $1.9-billion light rail line from Minneapolis to its suburbs.
The Metropolitan Council, the regional planning agency for the Twin Cities area, sparked controversy last fall when it rejected all four construction bids for the Southwest Light Rail Line, setting the stage for a new round of bids in May.
The Met Council cited high costs and conflicts of interest involving many of the supporting subcontractors, with dozens of firms barred from the competition because they had participated in work on the design phase of the project. The council later it admitted that it had not enforced the conflict rule in previous light-rail line construction projects.
After strong pushback from local construction and engineering trade groups, the Met Council has revised its earlier stance, which automatically prevented firms that had done preliminary design and engineering work from competing for construction work on the light rail line.
The Met Council has posted a new, three-page conflict of interest policy on its website. Subcontractors who believe they have a conflict of interest are required to disclose what the conflict is and propose how they would mitigate it.
The council would then decide whether to allow them to bid or not but would not automatically bar firms that had done preliminary work from competing for construction work.
The new rules cover both a “perceived” conflict as well as an “actual” one.
According to the Met Council, a conflict exists when a subcontractor or other firm can’t provide impartial assistance to the council,enjoys access to inside information on the project or as helped establish ground rules for latter bids that include “specifications, evaluation factors, or similar documents” favorable to a particular bidder or group bidders.
As for mitigation, the subcontractor or firm must thoroughly detail the actual or potential conflict and provide a “description of the measures proposed to avoid, neutralize or mitigate the conflict(s).”
The new round of bidding comes as the Southwest Rail Line, which would extend 14.5 miles from downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie, faces a new round of delays. The Met Council last year had hoped to have the new light rail line open by 2021, but has since pushed that date back to 2022 and now 2023.