There were some interesting moments at the Idaho Transportation Board meeting on Wednesday, which was uncharacteristically packed – every seat taken, including rows of extra chairs lined up along both sides and the back, and it’s a big, theater-style meeting room to begin with.
It was the meeting where the board voted to rescind its award of the contract to oversee the huge “Connecting Idaho” program to Boise-based WGI, and instead re-interview both bidders under stricter guidelines laid out by the Federal Highway Administration. Much of the concern centered around the board’s comments at its Oct. 27 meeting that it was choosing WGI over New York-based Parsons Brinckerhoff – though its nine-member technical evaluation committee unanimously recommended Parsons Brinckerhoff get the contract – in part because WGI is a local company that supports the Idaho economy. Federal rules prohibit favoring local firms – a point PB made when it sued, challenging the contract award.
Now, PB has agreed to drop its lawsuit and both companies have agreed not to challenge the decision the board makes after its second, more careful decision process (to take place entirely in open meetings). But when board members asked the two companies’ representatives whether Jan. 6th would work for them for the new interviews, Dave Butzier, program manager for WGI, stood and declared loudly, “We can make it the 6th, or next week – we all live here!” That prompted a loud, low murmur in the room – feelings were running high.
Another interesting moment came when board member Monte McClure of Meridian gave an impassioned explanation of why he’d reluctantly vote in favor of the motion to rescind the original contract award – and then he voted against it. “I will hold my nose doing it, because I don’t think we did anything wrong to start with,” McClure declared. “We lose funding if we don’t. … The only reason I’m voting for reconsideration is the fact that the federal government has said they would not fund us if we don’t.”
But when the roll was called, McClure’s name was called last – and the other five voting members already had voted yes. So McClure voted no. Amid laughter, member John McHugh of Post Falls commented, “I’d just like to compliment member McClure for voting his principles after he’s already determined how it’s going to go.”
Then, at the end, board Chairman Chuck Winder found himself voting to break a tie. After agreeing 5-1 to rescind the earlier award, board members split over whether to start over from scratch, or re-interview the two bidders under conditions that both the companies and the federal authorities had agreed to. Winder favored the latter, and it passed.
The meeting also gave Winder a chance to clarify a few things: The federal funds that were at risk because of the contract problems weren’t the entire $1.2 billion “Connecting Idaho” project – they were just the funds for the program manager contract. But that’s plenty big too – at up to $5 million a year for a 10-year project, it’s a contract worth as much as $50 million.