Bidding reopens for Southwest LRT construction

The Met Council rejected all four civil construction bids it received this summer

A METRO Green Line light rail train at Target Field Station. The nearly $1.9 billion Southwest Light Rail Transit project would extend the line another 14.5 miles to Eden Prairie. File photo

Bidding on the civil construction contract for the Southwest Light Rail Transit Project reopened Oct. 30, about six weeks after the Metropolitan Council rejected all four bids offered in a previous round.

The bids ranged from $796.5 million to nearly $1.1 billion and were rejected for being too costly. The agency also cited “responsiveness issues” in its explanation.

The decision delayed work on the $1.9 billion, 14.5-mile extension of the METRO Green Line by about four months, pushing the projected opening date into 2022.

“I think we would not recommend pursuing this path if we didn’t think it was absolutely necessary,” said Met Council Chair Alene Tchourumoff at the time.

Met Council now plans to award the civil construction contract in April and break ground on the project next construction season. Included in the scope of the contract is all double track for the entire route between Minneapolis and Eden Prairie, cut-and-cover tunnels, bridges and light rail stations, among other project components.

Although it wasn’t clear to many observers at the time, the “responsiveness issues” Met Council cited when it rejected the four previous bids had to do with the inclusion of firms that had been involved in either the advanced design or preliminary engineering phases of the SWLRT project. Three of the four previous bids relied on subcontractors who had worked with AECOM, the firm hired for advanced design work, a violation of Federal Transit Administration rules meant to ensure fair competition in bidding.

Tchourumoff referred to it as a “conflict of interest” at a SWLRT Corridor Management Committee meeting. The invitation for bids the agency released in October lists the three-dozen off-limits subcontractors previously involved in SWLRT work by name.

After rejecting the first round of bids, Met Council officials also said they would search for ways to trim costs from the project. Tchourumoff wrote in an Oct. 30 email to Met Council members that those adjustments included changes to the construction timeline meant to limit overtime costs and “modifications to increase risk-sharing with the contractor.”

“Over the past month, the Council and Hennepin County worked with project partners to identify potential modifications and surveyed the contracting community for ideas,” she wrote. “We have taken that input and adjusted the Civil Contract documents and specifications.”

Public input on crash wall

The Met Council in October also scheduled a public open house on a 1.4-mile crash wall added to the project in August.

The wall, which will separate light rail and freight rail traffic along much the SWLRT route through Minneapolis, was the result of negotiations over a shared-use agreement between Met Council and BNSF. BNSF owns a portion of the future SWLRT corridor extending from roughly Interstate 394 to the North Loop.

Describing it as a “significant and substantial change” in a letter to the Met Council, Mayor Betsy Hodges and other local elected officials demanded that the agency “promptly” conduct and environmental review of the wall. That environmental review was underway in September, SWLRT Project Director Jim Alexander said.

Alexander told members of the SWLRT Corridor Management Committee in September that the Minnesota Department of Transportation would also require a historic review of the wall. Its future location in the Wayzata Subdivision places it in a stretch of railroad corridor the agency views as potentially historically significant, he said.

The corridor runs through the Bryn Mawr neighborhood, and in October the Bryn Mawr Neighborhood Organization passed a resolution noting that the wall “raises questions and concerns over the impact … on wildlife, sound and visual separation.” The resolution also called on Met Council to conduct an environmental review.

Alexander said the FTA was expected to review the Met Council’s study of the wall’s potential impact and decide by December whether a deeper study was necessary.

The public open house on the crash wall is 5 p.m.–7 p.m. Nov. 15 at Bryn Mawr Elementary School, 252 Upton Ave. S.