Central Corridor LRT bonuses tell a tale of two contractors

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Central Corridor construction in downtown St. Paul earlier this year. (File photo by Alex Kolyer for MPR News)

What do people who live and work in the Central Corridor think about light-rail construction? The most recent community reviews are in — and again, they tell a tale of two contractors.

In St. Paul, low marks from the communication committees continued to dog Chicago-based Walsh Construction. Based on these reviews from residents and businesses, the Metropolitan Council gave Walsh $34,200, or 57 percent of its available incentive pay, for the quarter that ended June 30.

For the Minneapolis portion of the line, the joint venture of Ames/McCrossan earned $21,250, or 85 percent of its potential bonus.

The east-west discrepancy was not uncommon for the project. If fact, Ames/McCrossan has received a bigger share of its incentive pay every quarter since the beginning of 2011.

Walsh arguably has the more complicated job out of the two contracts. In St. Paul, the light-rail path wends its way for miles through a corridor teeming with small businesses, and residential neighborhoods right behind them. Across the river, the route cuts through the University of Minnesota campus but is much shorter.

The survey responses from the community panels cite concerns reminiscent of the problems last year — confusing signage, leftover construction debris, lack of business access, and unresponsiveness to community concerns. (It should be noted that others on the committees had a more positive take on Walsh; one person described its community-outreach liaison as “courteous” and “especially responsive.”)

Walsh is doing better than it did in 2011, according to Dan Soler of the Met Council’s project office. Soler said the agency is generally happy with the firm’s performance.

“They didn’t super-exceed expectations, but they’ve certainly done a good enough job to get a bonus,” Soler said.

The contractor has gotten some blow-back from businesses about construction vehicles taking up customer parking, an issue that apparently escalated in front of Ngon Vietnamese Bistro earlier this summer. Soler defended the contractor, adding that there are many moving parts to a project of this size.

“One thing people forget is that for every time there’s a construction vehicle parked where it shouldn’t be, there are 70 other construction vehicles parked where they should be,” he said.

You can read for yourself the Met Council’s letters to both contractors detailing their incentive pay amounts. Walsh’s is here. Ames/McCrossan’s is here.

Meanwhile, Walsh has other problems on its hands. Check out my story yesterday about business owners claiming Walsh refuses to make them whole on property damage they say is related to the project. Soler tells me the Met Council’s risk management division is being looped in to monitor the process and make sure the property owners’ concerns are heard.

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