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Eye on Annapolis

The Daily Record's Maryland state government blog

Expansion of I-270, Capital Beltway, returns to Board of Public Works

A contract to expand two major highways using toll lanes will come before the Board of Public Works Wednesday, seven months after it was withdrawn because of the appearance of ethics issues.

The board, chaired by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, is scheduled to discuss Wednesday the $90 million, five-year contract with Maryland Traffic Relief Partners to oversee engineering, planning, final design and construction of expansions to I-270 and portions of I-495 that run through Maryland. State officials have called the public-private partnership one of the largest, if not the largest, in the country.

Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn. (File)

Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn. (File)

“This was a priority and we kept it moving while we went through the (bidding process),” said Erin Henson, a Maryland Department of Transportation spokeswoman. “Now it’s a pretty straight forward contract that goes before the Board of Public Works.”

The new contract includes a more defined scope of work for the Maryland Traffic Relief Partners consortium that led by Reynolds, Smith and Hills, Inc. and includes Louis Berger US Inc. and Whitman, Requardt and Associates, LLP.

“The original contract anticipated three phases,” said Henson. “This is a total cost over one phase.”

The previous winning bidder, a consortium led by Kansas City, Missouri-based HNTB, finished third among competing groups in the new process.

Henson said the current winning bidder was selected after a more traditional process that took nearly 150 days. Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn recused himself from the process, keeping to an announcement he made in April following reports on ethics concerns by The Daily Record.

Henson said the state continued to work on the project while bidding out a new contract. Some work was completed over the last seven months using existing contractors and employees to handle some of the tasks the department expected would be handled by an earlier bidder in the project.

“We moved along so that the project didn’t stop cold,” she said.

The planned highway expansions covered by the $90 million contract are part a proposal announced by Hogan a year ago as part of a $9 billion public-private partnership to alleviate congestion on three major highways including the Capital Beltway, the I-270 corridor and a separate project on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.

Hogan’s proposals for Interstate 495 and Interstate 270 would encompass approximately 75 miles of highway and potentially affect 500,000 people daily, according to the Department of Transportation.

State officials wanted to accelerate the project hoping to save as much as two years. Rahn, the transportation secretary, waived the more traditional procurement process in March.

In April, Hogan ordered his transportation secretary to rebid a contract after nearly awarding the projects at an initial cost of $69 million to a consortium led by Kansas City, Missouri-based HNTB.

Rahn, who was previously employed by HNTB immediately before leading the state transportation department, used a new state law to legally expedite the standard competitive bid process.

The HNTB-led consortium was to be formally awarded a contract that paid nearly $69 million over two years, with seven additional years at an undetermined cost, at a Board of Public Works meeting in the spring. But questions arose about Rahn’s direct involvement in selecting a winning bidder and meetings, including a dinner, with officials from his former employer.

Hogan withdrew the request for approval when it became clear the contract did not have the two votes needed to pass.

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