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Contractor selection for Tropicana/I-15 project raises some questions

The contractor that could carry out the Tropicana Avenue/Interstate 15 interchange project was selected last week, but not without some controversy.

At the state Board of Transportation meeting, Kiewit Infrastructure West was chosen as the apparent best value for the project, beating out Ames Construction. That was despite Kiewit’s proposal carrying a $305 million price tag — $41 million more than Ames’ $264 million bid.

Earlier this year, the Nevada Department of Transportation estimated the project would cost around $270 million, up from initial cost estimates of $230 million. The increase was largely due to adding repaving work on I-15 between Warm Springs Road and Hacienda Avenue and rising construction costs, according to Lynnette Russell, NDOT assistant project manager. That repaving work was already in the works but was added into the project’s scope.

NDOT and Kiewit next will meet and confirm the contract ahead of its final approval at next month’s Board of Transportation meeting.

Project details

The project’s scope includes I-15 between Russell and Flamingo roads and Tropicana between Las Vegas Boulevard and Valley View Boulevard.

Tropicana over I-15 is deteriorating due to unanticipated traffic volume, so the capacity needs to be increased on the freeway ramps and the bridge over the interstate, Russell said.

Plans call for reconstructing the interchange, creating a diamond on-ramp and off-ramp configuration and a flyover at Tropicana.

Dean Martin Drive will be reconfigured to go underneath the Tropicana freeway ramps, removing a traffic signal at the intersection near the In-N-Out restaurant. Circular roads will be added to maintain access to the northwest and southwest quadrants.

Sidewalks on Tropicana over I-15 will be expanded from 5 feet to 10 feet, and a new pedestrian walkway will be constructed from the north side of Tropicana down to Frank Sinatra Drive, adding access to T-Mobile Arena.

High occupancy drop lanes are also planned to be added to and from Harmon Avenue, which would be located on the south side of the bridge.

With I-15 and Tropicana leading to the south end of the Strip, T-Mobile Arena and Allegiant Stadium, mitigation measures are in place to ensure traffic will be able to travel in and out of the area during construction.

The scoring process

Each company that bid on the project was graded on two areas: price, which accounted for 60 out of the 100 available points; and technical proposal evaluation, or how the company would carry out the project, which was worth 40 points.

Ames received a 24.4 out of 40 on the technical proposal evaluation while Kiewet got a 38.28.

On price, Ames’ cheaper cost scored a perfect 60, while Kiewet’s rated a 51.9. As a result, Kiewet netted a 90.18 overall score, besting Ames’ 84.4.

Outgoing Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall questioned how Ames, a company used by NDOT in the past, could score so low on the technical side, noting the stark cost differences in the two proposals.

“We’re talking serious money here and I was state treasurer, so even I think that’s serious money,” Marshall said during the meeting. “It seems to me that in order to get Kiewet to be the first bidder you had to technically weigh Ames’ proposal very, very, very low and it surprises me. It surprises me because Ames is a reputable entity here in Nevada that has done design-build projects before.”

Nick Johnson, NDOT project manager, noted that Ames has done a lot of work with the department and has done a good job in those instances. But this proposal wasn’t as strong as Kiewit’s, he said.

“The details, I can’t go into because they’re confidential at the moment but regardless we worked with our team to go through that (selection process),” Johnson said during the meeting. “It’s their proposal that they submitted and those are the scores that came up. But I think in the case of Kiewit, another great company, too, and the team scored them high.”

Las Vegas Paving was disqualified as a contender for the contract before the final stages of the review process.

“During this process … it was determined that LVP’s proposal was not compliant with the requirements of the RFP (request for proposal) and the technical provisions and that they failed at least one of the pass/fail criteria,” Russell said in an email. “As a result, they were notified that they had been disqualified from further consideration and were not eligible for award of the contract.”

Bill Wellman, division manager for Las Vegas Paving, spoke during public comment and questioned the price associated with Kiewet’s bid, noting their proposal was listed at $228 million.

“This is not about our disqualification,” Wellman said during the meeting. “This is about spending an additional $80 million of taxpayers’ money.”

Contact Mick Akers at makers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2920. Follow @mickakers on Twitter. Send questions and comments to roadwarrior@reviewjournal.com.

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