Met Council again delays SWLRT contract

The Metropolitan Council has for a second time delayed awarding the roughly $800 million civil construction contract for the Southwest Light Rail Transit project.

Met Council Chair Alene Tchourumoff announced the decision in a Sept. 26 letter to the local elected officials who serve on the project’s Corridor Management Committee. The council in July requested a 60-day extension on the bids that would have kept them on the table until Sept. 30. Now, it’s asking for an additional 45 days to make a decision on which of the two bidders will win the contract.

The bidders have until Sept. 28 to respond, Met Council Communications Director Kate Brickman said.

Tchourumoff said the council is anticipating a decision from the Federal Transit Administration on whether or not to grant the project a letter of no prejudice. That would allow construction to begin on the $2 billion transit project before all of the funding is in place.

The FTA is expected to award the project a $929 million grant — its largest single source of funding — but that decision may not come until well into 2019.

In her letter, Tchourumoff wrote that the 45-day extension allows time for the FTA to come to a decision on the letter of no prejudice, adding that the council and Hennepin County — the project’s second-largest funding source — would then move quickly to advance the project into the construction stage.

“Awarding the bid would allow the civil contractor to initiate equipment and construction staff mobilization later this year,” Tchourumoff wrote.

Brickman said it was unlikely that activity would mean shovels in the ground in 2018. Preparatory work this fall would allow construction to begin after the spring thaw.

A year ago, in September 2017, Tchourumoff rejected four bids on the civil construction contract that ranged from $796.5 million to nearly $1.1 billion. All were considered too high at the time, but bids were also disqualified for including subcontractors that had previously worked on the design of the project, a violation of FTA rules.

A second round of bidding attracted just two offers: $799.5 million from the team of Lunda Construction Co. and C.S. McCrossan and $812.1 million from the team of Ames Construction and Kraemer North America. Both were higher than the low bid submitted in 2017, which Met Council leaders said that anticipated, citing a series of project delays, inflation, a labor shortage and rising fuel and materials costs.