State picked least-skilled bidder or Hwy. 20 repair
10:45 PM PDT on Saturday, August 4, 2007
SALEM, Ore. -- The state picked the bidder with the least geotechnical expertise for the suspended massive repair job to U.S. 20 because the other two bids were higher, The Oregonian reports in its Sunday editions.
But underestimation of extensive erosion and landslides is what has stalled the shortening and straightening of a dangerous segment of the highway between Corvallis and Newport.
The state picked California-based Granite Construction Co., whose low scores in geotechnical engineering still were considered satisfactory based on the company's construction record.
Oregon Department of Transportation spokesman Joe Harwood said the current problems could have cropped up no matter who was chosen for the job.
The projected cost of the project, about $21 million for each of its seven miles, could rise to $30 million per mile.
Granite wants out of the contract it signed in 2005, saying they have run into so many deep and buried landslides that they will incur $61 million in cost overruns.
The state and Granite have suspended the contract for up to two years while Oregon figures out how to deal with the issue and possibly lower the cost.
Normally, ODOT would design the project then hire the lowest bidder to do the work.
But under the newer "design-build" contract used on Highway 20, the builder is responsible for design, engineering and construction, making expertise essential to success.
The state scores bidders in a complex system on points ranging from matters of environmental considerations to project management. Cost is worth 60 percent of the scoring and quality factors are worth 40 percent.
Granite had the lowest overall score, 1,760 out of a possible 3,300, and scored 286 out of 600 points for geotechnical engineering.
Kiewit Pacific had 369 and Atkinson-Parsons had 377.
Because cost factors outweighed quality, Granite got the job with a bid of $133 million against competing bids of $142.5 million and $158 million.
Forest Dill, chief estimator for Atkinson, said the difference reflected additional costs for dealing with unstable landscape, control of landslides and other problems.
In March, a subsidiary of Granite asked the state to release or suspend its contract to build the road and eight bridges.
The company said it discovered the landslides when it drilled bore holes at bridgeheads. Engineers said earth movement could reactivate the landslides.
Granite began work in spring 2006 but was not installing erosion control measures, and heavy rains let muddy water into salmon-bearing streams.
The state Department of Environmental Quality fined ODOT $90,000, claiming the state, not the company, was responsible for ensuring the contractor met environmental regulations.
Damage to salmon streams prompted the Oregon State Police to launch a criminal investigation.