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MnDOT Sued Over Contract to Replace Collapsed Freeway Bridge

Wed October 24, 2007 - National Edition

ST. PAUL (AP) Two Minnesotans are suing the state Department of Transportation over its selection of a Colorado contractor to replace the collapsed Interstate 35W bridge.

The lawsuit filed Oct. 16 in Ramsey County District Court seeks to stop the DOT from going ahead with the project and voiding the $234 million contract with Flatiron Constructors of Longmont, Colorado.

The lawsuit claims the contract is illegal and harms taxpayers. Flatiron’s bid was the most expensive and tied for the longest amount of time, but the company beat three other teams on a technical score that accounted for factors such as quality and aesthetics.

“MnDOT’s illegal contract with Flatiron irreparably harms us and all other Minnesota taxpayers,” the complaint said. “While all commuters want the 35W bridge rebuilt as soon as possible, we do not want it done with an illegal contract or one that is based on arbitrary and capricious decisions that lead to extravagant and improvident results.”

DOT spokeswoman Lucy Kender said it would be inappropriate for anyone at the agency to discuss a pending lawsuit.

One of the plaintiffs, Wendell “Tony” Phillippi of Eden Prairie, said he grew frustrated watching the Minnesota transportation agency’s handling of the bridge contract. He said the technical scores were “bewildering” and the agency was “unprofessional.”

“They’re all about the same visually,” Phillippi said of the bridge proposals. “The design of the bridge itself that’s been submitted — I mean, if you look at it closely there were some loopholes jumped through there. Guys in Florida trying to design bridges that work in Minnesota? What’s wrong with this picture?”

The lead designer on Flatiron’s team is Figg Bridge Engineers Inc. of Tallahassee, Fla.

Phillippi said he and the other plaintiff, Scott Sayer, are both businessmen in the construction industry. They’re seeking to have their attorney fees covered.

According to the complaint, they would have sued earlier but had to wait for the transportation agency to release data on the contractors’ technical scores. That happened on Oct. 8, the same day the department rejected a protest from two of the losing bidders and signed the contract with Flatiron.

Sayer declined to further comment. Their attorney, Dean Thomson, also represented the losing bidders who protested — C.S. McCrossan Construction and a joint venture of Ames Construction and Lunda Construction.

The lawsuit asks for a response from MnDOT within 20 days. Thomson said he plans to ask the court to halt construction on the bridge site while the case proceeds.

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