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Minnesota Offers Big Bonus for Quickly Built Bridge

Tue September 04, 2007 - National Edition

ST. PAUL (AP) Minnesota transportation officials are giving construction companies less than three weeks to bid on the fast-tracked Interstate 35W bridge project, and dangling a maximum bonus of $27 million if the winning bidder completes the bridge ahead of schedule.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation on Aug. 23 issued its “request for proposals” on the replacement bridge, with a due date of Sept. 10. Five firms are competing to build a 10-lane span on the site where an eight-lane bridge collapsed Aug. 1, killing 13 people.

The goal is to finish the new bridge by the end of 2008, a breakneck pace for a project of this size. Construction could begin as soon as Oct. 15 depending on how long it takes for debris removal, design and required government consent.

“It is very aggressive, but it is workable,” top department official Bob McFarlin said of the schedule.

MnDOT built incentives into the contract for quicker completion. The bonus schedule would award $7 million for finishing before a certain date, and would add $2 million for every 10 days earlier than that date, up to $27 million. No specific date is listed in the contract.

McFarlin said the incentives cut both ways: contractors could reap more money in the end, but they also take on more risk. If they agree to the incentive package, they forfeit the right to charge the department for cost overruns, employee overtime and premiums on rushed supply purchases.

“It costs them money to accelerate their job, to perform faster,” McFarlin said.

Opening the lanes to traffic sooner cuts down on delay costs to the traveling public and businesses, he said.

The five teams earlier deemed qualified to bid on the project are: C.S. McCrossan Inc.; Ames Construction Inc. and Lunda Construction Co.; American Bridge Co. and Walsh Construction Co.; Flatiron Construction Corp. and Johnson Bros.; and KTM Constructors, a joint venture of Kiewit Co., Traylor Bros. Inc. and Massman Construction Co.

Congress and President Bush have authorized $250 million toward the project.

City and state officials say they want to design the bridge to accommodate a possible light rail transit line in the future. Federal money can’t be used for that purpose, so the state or local governments will have to cover the added costs of the needed reinforcements.

Aside from highly technical specifications in the department’s bid package, there are standards that appear to be pegged to the recent tragedy.

According to documents, the bridge must be built to give inspectors and maintenance crews adequate room to work beneath the deck. There must be design features to “prevent access of vermin and birds” — a nod to the pigeon problem on the previous span.

And unlike the failed bridge, the new one must have backup supports, or what is known as redundancy.

“The primary objective of these specifications is that the bridge design be such that the consequences of any localized damage associated with an extreme all hazard event (whether an accident or an intentional attack) shall not result in disproportionate or progressive collapse of the structure,” agency documents read.

The bridge is expected to accommodate an immediate daily traffic load of 154,000 vehicles a day, but projections have that climbing to 180,000 by 2030. The posted speed limit will be 55 mi. per hour.

While the old bridge went by a bureaucratic name — Bridge 9340 — the new one will be known as the St. Anthony Falls (35W) Bridge reflecting its Mississippi River surroundings.

Also, the department scheduled three more public forums — Aug. 28, Aug. 30 and Sept. 5 — for people to comment on the design.

The Minneapolis City Council must give its consent before construction can begin. That process begins with a Sept. 20 meeting.

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