Baton Rouge engineers in a tizzy over possible MovEBR pricing requirement

Travelers on Interstate 12.

Members of the local engineering community are disturbed by the possibility that Mayor Sharon Weston Broome’s administration may factor cost into its evaluation of firms seeking the lucrative contract—estimated to be worth between $70 million and $80 million—to manage the parish’s $1 billion MovEBR road improvement program.

At a lunchtime meeting of the Baton Rouge Growth Coalition, parish Director of Development Fred Raiford, whose office is overseeing the procurement process, confirmed the administration is determining the legality of adding pricing into a Request for Qualifications. The RFQ is currently in draft form.

“Are there ways we can evaluate on price? I am on my way to a meeting after this to discuss how or if this can be included,” he says. “I don’t know if it can.”

Raiford acknowledges the administration has gotten “a lot of comments about including price,” and has been looking into that as well as several other issues, including how much DBE participation will be required.

Though it may seem like a technical detail, it’s anything but. The program management contract will be the largest of its kind in the city’s history and the way the procurement document is worded will have huge ramifications for which firms are eligible to compete, which firm—or team of firms—is selected and, ultimately, how the 30-year infrastructure overhaul is managed.

Raiford said he hopes to resolve the issue soon, admitting that “either way someone isn’t going to be happy with what we decide—and I’m OK with that.”

Engineers at the luncheon appeared displeased there was any discussion of the issue. They say both state and federal laws prohibit factoring price into an engineering services solicitation. They also note the city-parish will have to negotiate a price with the winning team and that the Metro Council will have to sign off on those terms before a contract is signed.   

“Baton Rouge has used qualifications-based selection in the past for other major projects, including Green Light and the sewer system upgrade,” Doreen Brasseaux, president and CEO of the American Council of Engineering Companies of Louisiana, said after the meeting. “It’s puzzling to me that you wouldn’t want to focus on qualifications first.”

But influential voices in the community—like businessman Jim Bernhard, whose high-profile support for the MoveBR roads tax factored into its successful passage last December—have argued the administration should not select a program manager for a contract of this size and magnitude without somehow evaluating price.

“This is a program management contract, not a design contract,” Bernhard told Daily Report Monday. “Do I think pricing is a component of a management contact? Yes. Do I  think financial stability is? Yes. Qualifications? Yes. All of that should be factored in.”

Raiford says he’s listened to both arguments, yet remains on the fence.

“Is (pricing) off the table? No,” he says. “But I won’t tell you it is in the proposal. That will be decided soon.”

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