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Bids for controversial I-15 project differed by 1 point

SALT LAKE CITY — The difference between winning the state's largest ever road construction project came down to a single point.

That and other information was contained in numerous documents released by the Utah Department of Transportation Wednesday as the controversy over whether campaign contributions to Gov. Gary Herbert influenced the awarding of state contracts for the record $1.7 billion project to rebuild I-15 through Utah County.

UDOT Executive Director John Njord told a legislative committee earlier in the day that he made a mistake by paying out $13 million to one of the losing bidders without telling lawmakers or the governor.

The UDOT documents, available online on the agency's website, indicated that the bid team of Provo River Constructors beat out Flatiron/Skanska/Zachary by a score of 91.8 to 90.8 of a possible total of 100 points. A third team came in distant third with 81 points.

The proposals were scored on a weighted system based on the highest value for the project's budget, inconvenience to the driving public and completion of the project by at least 2014.

The final score was impacted most by the winning team's proposal that included a shorter construction period and minimal impact to traffic in the Utah County project zone, according to Tracy Conti, UDOT director of operations and a member of the selection recommendation committee that issued the final report.

"(Flatiron) had a better design … as far as project definition," he told the Deseret News. "Where PRC moved to the forefront was it was a year less time and maintenance of traffic."

"They were keeping the full road open for (the entire time)," he added.

PRC's plan was "far superior" regarding traffic closures on main roads, highway ramps and cross streets, Conti said.

"So we got the benefit of a year quicker and the impact to the public during construction from PRC's traffic control plan is a lot less than (Flatiron)," he said.

Conti said there was no undue influence from any outside political source and the scores of the two top finalists were not changed or altered in any way.

Flatiron, however, protested the bid award in a series of letters to UDOT that resulted in the settlement.

The second-place bid team claimed in its initial notice protesting the bid award that "UDOT did not weigh the evaluation factors consistent with the request for proposal. By failing to evaluate the proposals consistent with the criteria in the RFP, UDOT's apparent award was arbitrary and requires revaluation."

In the final letter before the $13 million settlement was negoatiated, Flatiron said the "trend is glaringly obvious as the manner in which the (selection recommendation committee) intervened with the rankings provided by the (evaluation team)" in five of the nine potential scoring opportunities to boost PRC's score.

The bid process started in April 2009, when UDOT conducted a seminar with potential bidders and announced three teams had qualified to bid on the project about a month later. A formal request for proposals was issued on June 15 and UDOT held weekly one-on-one meetings with the bidders through October.

Final proposals were submitted in November and the technical evaluation of the proposals began and continued through early December. On Dec. 9, the selection of PRC was announced and UDOT's contract with the winning bid team was executed on Dec. 21.

Flatiron's notice of protest was filed a day later and a settlement was officially signed with the second place finisher on Feb. 11, 2010.

Both Herbert and legislative leaders were surprised to learn of the $13 million payment only when it was reported Monday.

"I could make excuses as to why I didn't (speak with the governor or lawmakers about the settlement), and it would sound like excuses," Njord told the Deseret News.

Sitting next to Carlos Braceras, UDOT deputy director and chief engineer, Njord told the Transportation Interim Committee that he made a mistake in not including the governor's office or legislators about the decision to pay the settlement to avoid what he felt could have been a much more lengthy and costly outcome.

The winning bidder gave Herbert $82,500 in campaign contributions, including a $50,000 contribution from one team member who had two private meetings with the governor prior the contract award.

On Tuesday, Njord said the bid process was "very clean" but acknowledged he did not inform the governor or state lawmakers about the settlement because of the complexity of awarding road contracts.

In making the decision among the three finalists, Njord said a group of six UDOT staff members involved with reviewing the bids, including himself and Braceras, came to a unanimous decision that Provo River Constructors' bid was the best proposal.

"For (us), it was a no brainer," Njord told the committee. "This was absolutely the right contractor to select."

Njord said his office makes big decisions regularly on contract projects and does so with considerable thought about the potential impact on the public's trust and the bottom line.

But he said he now knows he should have had more input from key government officials.

"We've done several other (contracts) since then and have refined the process to ensure that this doesn't happen again," he said.

In the future, Njord said he is looking forward to bringing more people into the decision-making process to avoid any similar controversies.

"If this situation ever occurred again, I know what is expected at this point in time," he said. "I have learned that lesson."

Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche