Just one bidder left for light-rail construction job

Met Council delayed awarding the contract a second time in September

One of two bidders for the massive Southwest Light Rail Transit civil construction project has dropped out of the running.

Last month, the Metropolitan Council for a second time extended the deadline to award the roughly $800 million contract, reporting that it gave both bidders until Sept. 28 to agree to the extension. While the team of Lunda Construction Co. and C.S. McCrossan agreed to give the agency until mid-November to come to a decision, the Met Council did not hear back from the other bidder, a team comprised of Ames Construction and Kraemer North America.

That means the $812.1 million Ames-Kraemer bid “is no longer valid,” Met Council Communications Director Kate Brickman confirmed today in an email. The $799.5 million Lunda-McCrossan bid will stay on the table until Nov. 15.

The scope of the civil construction contract includes 153,000 feet of track, 29 bridges, two cut-and-cover light rail tunnels, six pedestrian tunnels, eight park-and-ride facilities and 15 light rail stations. It accounts for a significant portion of the $2 billion-plus budget for the project, a 14.5-mile extension of the Metro Green Line from downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie.

Met Council originally sought bids on the contract in 2017 and got four responses, ranging from $796.5 million to nearly $1.1 billion.

All four bids were rejected in September 2017 for being too costly and what the agency described at the time as “responsiveness issues.” It later clarified that the construction bids included subcontractors involved in advanced design for the project, a violation of Federal Transit Administration rules.

When it rebid the project earlier this year, both contract teams pitched cost estimates higher than the low bid from the first round. Met Council officials said they anticipated costs would rise given the ongoing delays to the project and the impacts of inflation, a labor shortage and increasing fuel and materials costs.

Since then, the date for awarding the bid has slipped from Aug. 1 to Sept. 30 to, now, Nov. 15.

Both times it sought an extension to the deadline, Met Council officials said they were awaiting a so-called letter of no prejudice from the FTA. The letter is essentially the federal agency’s OK to commence construction work prior to the awarding of a federal grant that is expected to cover nearly half of all project costs.

In a Sept. 26 letter to the local elected officials serving on the project’s Corridor Management Committee, Met Council Chair Alene Tchourumoff said the agency was “prepared to take action to award quickly” when the letter of no prejudice arrives. Tchourumoff noted the project had recently cleared several hurdles, including the resolution of a disagreement with Twin Cities & Western Railroad, the Glencoe-based shortline that operates along a portion of the future light-rail corridor; the federal Surface Transportation Board’s approval of a plan to rearrange ownership and control of a portion of the corridor; and the FTA’s completion of a risk-assessment report on the project.

But the ongoing delays have cost the SWLRT project, and in a separate communication Brickman acknowledged “it’s not likely we’ll have shovels in the ground this year.” She said the civil construction contractor could “begin mobilizing for early construction activities” yet this year if a letter of no prejudice arrives before Nov. 15.

Service on the line would begin in 2023 at the earliest.

The project remains the subject of a federal environmental lawsuit brought by Lakes and Parks Alliance of Minneapolis, a citizens group. The case is now set to be heard in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals after U.S. District Court Judge John Tunheim this spring found in favor of the Met Council and the alliance appealed his ruling.