Company sued in I-35 collapse bids on Stillwater bridge

by Nickalas Tabbert

 An engineering company linked to the fatal I-35 bridge collapse in 2007 is bidding to design another major bridge crossing near the Twin Cities.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation said Wednesday that San Francisco-based URS Corp. is among the bidders to design a $571 million to $676 million span crossing the St. Croix River east of the Twin Cities.  URS is also seeking a contract to review the bridge's design if another firm is selected to design it.

Gov. Mark Dayton said last year as a candidate that the state should sever ties with URS because it failed to spot the critical design flaw in the Interstate 35W bridge that collapsed. 

"If a contractor fails to perform, it should not get another contract," he said in August 2010.

A federal probed attributed the collapse to connector plates deemed too thin to support the bridge's weight, the Pioneer Press said.

Dayton also said he would attempt to exclude the company from state work through an executive order if elected and go to court to uphold any URS disqualification.  To date, he hasn't taken any executive action but has concerns about URS, said Katharine Tinucci, Dayton's spokeswoman.

In a letter last week to Dayton, Tom Bader, URS vice president and office manager in Minneapolis, wrote URS "did not design or build the I-35W bridge" and that "there were no findings of fault against us."  He added that company chairman and CEO Martin Koffel would be willing to travel to Minnesota and meet with Dayton to address concerns he might have.

URS is not on a list of vendors barred from doing state work, so officials have said they can't legally deny it the chance to bid for public projects.

Transportation spokesman Kevin Gutknecht said the St. Croix bridge bidders will be evaluated on factors including technical proficiency, management skills and knowledge of the project, the Press said.  The Minnesota and Wisconsin transportation departments are working together to make a selection later this month.