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Court Upholds Design-Build Best-Value Selection Process for 35W Bridge

During rush-hour on August 1, 2007, the Interstate 35W bridge near downtown Minneapolis collapsed into the Mississippi River. The collapse killed 13 people and injured many more. For many Minnesotans, the image of the twisted wreckage will be indelibly etched into their memories. The bridge collapse also had a serious impact upon travel in and around Minneapolis, and a replacement was needed as quickly as possible.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) opened bidding on the replacement bridge almost immediately. In awarding the contract, MnDOT used a new process known as design-build best-value. This process, which was authorized by the Minnesota Legislature, called for each bidder to submit a bid and project design for the project. However, in a departure from normal bidding procedures, the design-build best-value process allows the public agency awarding the contract to use more than lowest bid as criteria for awarding the contract. Specifically, the public agency is able to consider price, past quality, timeliness, customer satisfaction and other factors. This new process changed accepted practices for bidding of construction law projects.

Not everyone was satisfied with the process used to select the winning bid. Scott Sayer and Wendell Phillippi, both construction executives, filed a lawsuit challenging the bidding process that was used to select a designer and contractor for the rebuilding of the bridge. Specifically, the suit claimed that MnDOT applied an improper test in the process of selecting a contractor for the project.

The Minnesota Supreme Court rejected the suit, stating that MnDOT did not violate the law in its award of the contract. Justice Alan Page wrote the opinion for the Minnesota Supreme Court upholding MnDOT’s decision. The opinion acknowledged that “the lowest responsible bidder is still the preferred method for choosing a contractor.” But the court went on to clarify that “the Legislature has determined that in certain situations the design-build best-value procurement approach is in the public’s best interest.”

Ultimately, on September, 18, 2008, a new bridge built by Flatiron-Manson was opened to traffic. The project was completed well ahead of schedule, and earned the contractors involved sizeable bonuses for early completion.

If you have a question about construction contracts or any other real estate issue, contact Bart Gernander or one of the other experienced construction law attorneys of Burns & Hansen, P.A..