Friday, July 2, 2010


Dayton Calls on Mn/DOT to End all Contracting with Allegedly Negligent Firm URS St. Paul, MN: Mark Dayton today called on the Minnesota Department of Transportation to end all contracting with allegedly negligent firm URS. The private contracting giant has been the defendant in several closed and ongoing lawsuits alleging that they cut corners and failed to do their job because they did not determine from multiple inspections that the I-35W bridge was unsafe and in imminent danger of collapse. At the time of the tragic bridge collapse on August 1, 2007, URS had been under contract with Mn/DOT since 2003 to inspect and analyze the strength of the structure. Internal URS e-mail messages which were subsequently made public showed both alleged negligence and incompetence. In one such e-mail message, written in 2006, URS engineer Ed Zhou acknowledged that URS “will not calculate actual capacities of all the [bridge] connections since that is too much work, although that provides the most accurate results.” In another URS memo from a 2006 meeting on the bridge’s safety, the company noted that if gusset plate buckling were to occur, “it is not catastrophic.” Gusset plate failure is widely believed to be the reason why the 35-W bridge fell down. "I am concerned that Ed [Zhou] is trying a little too hard to advise MnDOT that the (I-35W) bridge is okay even though it is clearly overstressed by today's design criteria," URS Project Manager Don) Flemming wrote in another internal URS memo. In spite of several lawsuits alleging negligence, Mn/DOT has awarded 47 contracts worth over $9 million to URS since the bridge collapse. Several of those contracts related directly to ongoing bridge work, and URS even was given contracts for the I-35W replacement bridge after the previous structure collapsed. “Mn/DOT’s continuing relationship is a clear failure of state government,” said Dayton. “It’s terribly wrong that contracts would continue to be awarded at taxpayers’ expense to a firm that the State sued for such a horrible catastrophe. I call on Mn/DOT to immediately stop awarding contracts to URS. If a contractor fails to perform, it should not get another contract.” Dayton also said that the URS contracts shine light on the larger problems of outsourcing government responsibilities to private firms. Mn/DOT reported that it awarded $118 million in contracts to private firms in the FY08-09 biennium. Dayton said, “My budget proposal would reduce by half outsourcing by all state agencies, which totaled over $850 million in the last biennium. That work should be performed by public employees at lower cost to taxpayers and with greater accountability. MnDOT’s excessive contracting is the place to start.” Those contracts are far from transparent, as Dayton staff were directed first to the “Bid Letting” department, then to “Consultant Services,” and finally to “Contract Management Services.” In the end, hours of searching only yielded a short list of links to five URS contracts dating back to August of 2008. The actual copies of the five contracts were unavailable, even though they were listed under the heading, “Taxpayers’ Transportation Accountability Act Notices.”

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