An attorney representing the Louisiana chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America (LAGC) has expressed concern about how the city of New Orleans handled the negotiations for the major rebuilding of Bourbon Street, according to WWL-TV.
LAGC general counsel Murphy Foster III alleged in a letter to the city that it overstepped in making a deal with contractor Hard Rock Construction to execute the $6 million–plus renovation under an existing $3.9 pavement maintenance contract instead of putting the new work out to bid.
New Orleans Public Works Director Mark Jernigan said elements of the Bourbon Street project were most likely beyond the scope of Hard Rock's maintenance contract but that the city will make sure the contractor's prices are fair. In his letter, Foster said the city is opening itself up to legal action by awarding work this way and that the association will be monitoring the bid process for future city construction projects.
Negotiated work is typically the mark of private construction projects, where the owner has leeway in selecting a contractor. A public project is usually a different matter, particularly when the work in question will cost millions of dollars.
Chicago attorney Richard Reizen, partner and construction practice co-chair at Gould & Ratner, told Construction Dive last year that the public bidding process is supposed to be transparent. "The theory is that government contracting is fair if everybody has an equal chance," he said.
Bid documents are available to all qualified bidders, and they include plans, specifications, detailed bid instructions, a sample contract and other forms that could be used during the project. Once contractors have submitted their bids — sometimes sealed to protect the integrity of the process — the agency is typically required to award the project to the lowest responsible bidder.
When questions arise about a potential breach of standard bid procedures, however, protests and controversy can erupt.
A losing bidder on a major downtown Miami bridge project is protesting the Florida Department of Transportation's decision to award the project to another construction team even though its design was preferred by a local panel established by the state to give input. Some local officials who favored the second-place design allege that FDOT manipulated the scoring process to give the winning bid an unfair advantage, according to the Miami Herald.