Yesterday morning, I read a confusing story ($) about a bug in the Sound Transit bid system, and how a contractor was using it as a reason to ask for a rebid of the North Link tunnel contract.
During the bidding process, communications are sometimes made to bidders about changes. In this case, nine days before the bid window closed, Sound Transit posted a change to the schedule on which contract payments are made – they would no longer withhold 5% of payment until the end of construction. Payments on these projects are often doled out on a schedule anyway, so this just shifts that schedule a little.
There was a glitch in eBid, where notification of this document likely wasn’t emailed to most contractors. They still could see it appear in their dashboard, they just didn’t get a notification.
The low bid for the contract, at $440 million, came from JCM. Shortly after, Traylor Frontier-Kemper, the same contractor that discriminated against African-American workers on the University Link tunnel contract, requested that the bid process should be restarted due to the bug.
The problem is, their bid was $465 million. Remember, this change was just a matter of *when* payment is made – so assuming it really would have an impact on their bid, I think the largest possible impact would be interest on 5% of $465 million over the construction period. That’s nowhere near enough to make up the $25 million difference in the bids. In fact, even if you assumed the 5% was completely lost (which is stupid, I’m just illustrating the point), they’d STILL only be about $23 million lower.
Sound Transit denied their rebid request – in the denial letter I was shown, Sound Transit even confirms TFK had downloaded the documents before bid closure and had personal assistance from a Sound Transit employee to confirm they had access.
Now TFK has started a PR attack – first getting stories in the Seattle Times and DJC with headlines threatening that the tunneling “may be delayed,” including a quote in the Times from TFK general counsel Steve Owen likening Sound Transit to the “Keystone Kops.” Then, their PR firm sent STB a press release saying “Northlink” (sic) “faces possible rebid”.
I followed up with the PR firm – could the document they claim to have missed possibly lower their bid by $25 million? They replied with a message from Owen, a near-boilerplate of talking points about unfairness, rather than directly answering my math question. I followed up and gave them several more hours yesterday to answer it, but as of the time of this posting, they have not.
To me, it seems like TFK wants to rebid now that they’ve seen everyone else’s work, but the reasoning they’re using doesn’t hold up. Hopefully, Sound Transit will reject this attack.