I-35W bridge construction likely to continue on schedule, judge says

The public need for a new bridge will likely outweigh concerns over the contracting.

;ST. PAUL (AP) – Construction to replace the collapsed Interstate 35W bridge was cleared to start as scheduled on Thursday, after a Ramsey County judge declined to hold up the $234 million project.

Judge Edward Cleary on Wednesday rejected an attempt by two construction executives to freeze work on the site while they challenge the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s contract with a team led by Flatiron Constructors of Colorado. The executives alleged that Flatiron won unfairly and sought to void the contract.

Cleary didn’t give them much hope. Although he didn’t rule on the merits of their case, his ruling suggested they are unlikely to succeed.

And he said the public’s need to quickly replace the bridge – a Minneapolis artery that carried more than 140,000 vehicles a day before the Aug. 1 collapse – trumped their complaints about the process. Flatiron has pledged to finish the bridge by Christmas 2008.

“Since there is not enough evidence in the Court’s mind to conclude that the contract is likely illegal, the more distinct harm of additional costs and delay to the public and direct harm to the Defendants outweighs Plaintiffs’ potential harm,” Cleary wrote.

But the Minnesota Department of Transportation didn’t come out of the ruling unscathed. Cleary said the agency shouldn’t have signed a contract with Flatiron on the same day technical scores for the four bidders were released to the public.

“By signing a contract with the successful bidder before releasing the underlying data that led to that decision, MnDOT cloaked the decision in secrecy,” his ruling said.

Bob McFarlin, assistant to the state transportation commissioner, didn’t quarrel with the ruling.

“We respect Judge Cleary’s opinion on this issue,” he said. “However, given the extraordinary daily economic impacts of delay, the need to move the project forward for purposes of submitting costs to the federal government for possible reimbursement, and simply the need to quickly reconnect the region’s highway system, MnDOT felt a duty in the public interest to move forward as expeditiously as possible.”