Richland contract will speed transportation program

06/29/2014 8:38 PM

06/29/2014 8:40 PM

On Monday, Richland County Council will choose the engineering team that will pick up the pace of its transportation improvement program.

Five months have passed since the council initially awarded the contract for a program development team, only to pull back the offer once a rare protest was lodged. The second-place finisher questioned the selection process and, rather than risk a lengthy legal dispute, the county started over.

This go-round, three teams are in the running for the five-year contract, valued at $50 million, to oversee construction of the county’s transportation projects paid for by the new penny-on-the-dollar sales tax.

One of the primary goals is to ensure that small, local and minority-owned businesses share in the unprecedented $1.07 billion devoted to better roads, public transit, sidewalks, bicycle lanes and trails. Voters approved the improvements, funded by a local penny-on-the-dollar sales tax.

The competing firms put together professional teams with a diversity of subcontractors to handle everything from prioritizing the projects to quality control of construction and every step in-between.

Richland chairman Norman Jackson said County Council is expected to select their favored team at a 3:30 p.m. Monday public session after holding private interviews with each of the three earlier in the day.

The teams should be familiar. Five teams bid on the job in January and each has a presence on the three private-sector groups coming before the council Monday.

“There have been some divorces and remarriages on these teams,” is how county transportation director Rob Perry put it.

The applicants are:

• Civil Engineering Consulting Services. Based in Columbia, the company protested the first selection process, which the council revised to eliminate rankings by staff never released to the public. CECS added ENVIRO AgScience Inc., a former competitor, to its team.
• ICA/Brownstone/MB Kahn. Some criticized the council for choosing Kentucky-based ICA as its program development team last time. The vote was 7-4. ICA Engineering now has aligned itself with the M.B. Kahn Construction Co., a local firm.
• Infrastructure Consultant & Engineering. The Columbia firm was a subcontractor last go-round but teamed with former competitor the Michael Baker Corp. to put in a bid as the prime contractor this time, spokeswoman Lynda Monroe said.

Organizational charts for the three teams are filled with dozens of names, including several former officials with the S.C. Department of Transportation and a couple of elected officials. Mia McLeod, a public-relations executive and state legislator, is on one team and Brian DeQuincey Newman, a lawyer who sits on Columbia City Council, is on another. A former business partner of Richland Councilman Torrey Rush’s shows up, too.

“The performance, not the individuals, is what I’m most interested in,” Councilman Greg Pearce said.

In the private interviews in January, the teams laid out the firms they’d brought together, explained how they would approach the task that includes hundreds of projects outlined for voters and projected how quickly they could ramp up, Pearce said.

“It’s a huge decision,” he said. “I hope we can reach a consensus.”

Norman Jackson, chairman of County Council who works at the state transportation department, said all the applicants have solid highway construction experience, ensuring the county will get a firm that knows the ropes.

“We pretty much know all of the players involved already,” Jackson said. “It shouldn’t take much time to make a decision.”

Among the tasks of the program development team will be prioritizing projects; conducting preliminary designs and plans; acquiring land; putting projects out to bid; and inspecting construction. Council members also have said they want to ensure there are staff people dedicated to keeping the public informed about the status of the myriad projects.

In November 2012, voters agreed to fund the unparalleled 22-year program.

The earlier snafu pushed progress back six months.

Jackson said the council is impatient. “We want to make sure citizens get their money’s worth in getting these projects on the ground and getting started.”

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