PennDOT Awards First e-Bid Contract to Francis J. Palo

Wed December 18, 2002 - Northeast Edition
Mark Hoffman

One of the most popular sites at the 2002 APC/PennDOT Fall Seminar wasn’t a sight at all, but a Web address — — the home page of the Engineering and Construction Management System (ECMS) where the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) was letting the first all-electronic bid awards for construction work.

The first winner to be announced by e-bidding was Francis J. Palo Inc., 245 South Ave., Clarion, PA, which won the bid for constructing a new overpass on PA SR 38 over I-80 in Clarion with a bid of $537,244.

“It went very smoothly. Very easy. If it wasn’t for Becki, I would have pulled my hair out,” said Paul Roman, of Palo, who attended the APC/PennDOT Fall Seminar.

By Becki, he meant Becki Mescher-Vutta, PennDOT’s manager of contract awards, who was on hand during the three-day conclave to explain the ins and outs of bidding online for PennDOT work.

Mescher-Vutta said PennDOT hopes to award all bids online by July 2003. Although it is still accepting some bids by hand or by mail, PennDOT is encouraging all contractors to become cyber-contractors and e-bidders.

PennDOT said the site, which is very easy to navigate, contains everything any contractor or subcontractor would need in order to bid on a job or part of a job. Through the site, a visitor can access plans, specs, as well as a list of potential competitors or everyone else who has requested information about a certain job.

Only prime contractors can bid on a job, but subcontractors can get a good handle on what aspects of the job they can do and can contact the prime directly or do whatever they do to curry favor and attract business.

“It has everything a contractor would need to quote a job except for a site visit,” said Mescher-Vutta.

There is no longer a need to request a bid sheet or specs. A contractor can save $10 or more by simply printing one out from the Web site.

David Azzato, another PennDOT computer guru on hand to explain the e-bidding process, said that not all contractors have signed up for the free registration as PennDOT business partners. But if they don’t sign up, they will not be able to participate as a prime or even as a subcontractor, Azzato warned.

PennDOT said that all subcontractors or anyone who wishes to work for it must be preregistered. The name of all approved and registered contractors are provided in a drop-down menu for a prime contractor to chose from when it comes to the next job. It they are not on the drop-down list, the bid cannot be placed or else the subcontractor must be skipped and another subcontractor selected.

“Getting the right subs was hard for me because not all those I wanted to work with were registered,” said Roman. “We had to call up the sub we wanted and make sure that they got their registration in before the bidding deadline in order to qualify. They made it and we got it [the contract], but it was tight.”

Mescher-Vutta said that companies and individuals can register online, providing they are an approved PennDOT contractor. However, once they register online they must still send or hand-deliver the form to PennDOT with the proper signatures for it to become official. Once they are a business partner, that should be one of the last pieces of paper they should fill out, she said.

“It is more than just a simple registration form. It contains your electronic signature for bidding, it allows you to bid electronically on jobs as well as accept electronic payments from PennDOT,” she stressed.

She said that PennDOT has been moving gradually to all electronic bidding over the past four years.

“We worked directly with the contractors to get rid of all the bugs and to develop a system that we felt was very user-friendly. We went through a lot of practice bid sessions to see how the system worked,” Mescher-Vutta said.

“Now we are ready. We expect to award 19 contracts worth $30 million by the end of December and have 70 or so projects lined up for next year.

“But,” she warned, “if someone is not preregistered as a business partner — and that registration is free — they will not be able to participate. They will be able to look and watch, but they will not be able to bid.”

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