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Lawmakers pushing WisDOT reform bill without alternative to design-bid-build

Legislation meant to give lawmakers more control over the cost of road projects is moving forward without a provision that would have let officials use an alternative to the design-bid-build system of awarding contracts.

Assembly Bill 85, which would impose a long list of new reporting requirements on the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, was among the dozens of bills the state Assembly was moving to pass during a floor session starting Thursday afternoon. The original version of the bill would have let state officials turn, for the first time, to the construction manager general contractor system of awarding contracts as an alternative to the current low-bid-wins system. But that provision was amended out last year just before the bill was taken up and passed by the state Senate.

The proposed construction manager general contractor system, also known as CMGC, would have let state officials contract with a construction manager during a road project’s design phase. Before those designs were 90 percent complete, the state could have then chosen either to hire the same construction manager for the project’s construction phase or to put the project out to bid.

Proponents of CMGC say there are many benefits to letting contractors have influence over design and engineering work before a project is put out to bid. They say that construction companies, because of their experience in the field, are often in a position to point out when something that might look good on paper is in fact unbuildable.

Opponents, though, worry the system would deprive the state and taxpayers of the advantages of competition. Under the state’s current design-bid-build rules, taxpayers are generally believed to benefit every time companies try to underbid each other to win public contracts.

CMGC and other alternatives to design-bid-build were among the remedies a group of Republican lawmakers proposed last year in response to a state audit finding that WisDOT had underestimated the cost of various highway projects by hundreds of millions of dollars. Many of their other proposals called for WisDOT to be subject to new reporting requirements.

AB 85, in its amended form, would still put WisDOT under many of those reporting rules. If the bill became law, for instance, WisDOT would have to submit progress reports every six months to various legislative committees, as well as the Transportation Projects Commission, which has a say on major highway projects. For every ongoing project, the reports would have to include: both the estimated cost at the time of approval and any changes made to those estimates since then; an explanation of why the estimates had changed, if they had; and state officials’ opinion on whether the projects could still be completed as originally planned.

About Dan Shaw, dan.shaw@dailyreporter.com

Dan Shaw is the associate editor at The Daily Reporter. He can be reached at dan.shaw@dailyreporter.com or at 414-225-1807.

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