EDITORIAL: Line cutting

New Mexico, U.S. DOT think short-listing is the way to go

May 07, 2015

Swanky nightclubs come and go, so it is probably not too difficult to stumble upon a stash of velvet rope.

The question is, will more departments of transportation be using them? If not in the physical sense, agencies might grab on to this trending mindset.

Everyone knows the scene, although I must admit I could never build up enough stupidity to actually wait through a line to spend a week’s rent on a night’s worth of dance club supremacy. Beautiful women and well-to-do men do not have to endure nearly as much. For them, entrance is immediate and food and drinks are just as quickly accessible, and in some cases complementary.  

Now you have New Mexico and the U.S. DOT essentially picking and choosing who they want to enter this road and bridge party in the form of contract bidding. In New Mexico, the department of transportation will now take contractors’ past performance into consideration when selecting a winning bid in projects over $5 million. This move, which has been endorsed by the Federal Highway Administration, attempts to hire the VIPs of the business, right? Only those with the prettiest of records, correct? Don’t be so quick to welcome this practice, says the Associated Contractors of New Mexico (ACNM). Before I go any further, here is how the process will work: Contractors will receive a general mark based on how they have performed in the past when it comes to timeliness, quality, safety, prompt payment of subcontractors, claims and nonconformance. The score is multiplied by the bid to come up with a modified bid, and this lowest calculated bid will get the work.

The ACNM believes the move is an intoxicated one. There are no incentives for paving work in New Mexico, only disincentives. So a paving contractor wanting to get in on a job already has a strike against it because it’s impossible to receive a bonus or 100% pay in a majority of the jobs. ACNM also points to another interesting stat: Three-fourths of the state contractors will only have one or two project scores in a year. That means if a problem surfaced on one job the overall score is basically tarred and feathered. The new rule would favor large contractors and those builders who come from out of state. This elite list that will be gaining access to New Mexico jobs will be short, which means, due to inflated prices the winners will be dancing in celebration to the popping of Dom Perignon bottles.

The U.S. DOT also is feeling bubbly about the prospect of cutting out competition. In March, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced a one-year pilot program that would allow state and local transportation agencies to utilize local hiring preferences on federal-aid highway and transit projects. The feds used to blacklist anyone who would even think about trying such a practice—and now suddenly there is a yellow glow to it.

Is the leadership of this industry sucking on the type of “candy” that was passed around Studio 54 back in its hey-day? When many DOTs at the state and local level are battling budget issues, how on Earth is the practice of cutting competition gaining entry? The more firms you have bidding on any given project, the better your chances of lowering the total price. Here’s hoping the pilot program takes a nosedive and New Mexico snaps out of its hallucination. The people behind these decisions need to be on the outside looking in. R&B

Bill Wilson
Bill Wilson

Bill Wilson is the editorial director of ROADS & BRIDGES magazine and has been covering the industry since 1999. He has won seven Robert F. Boger Awards for editorial excellence, including three in 2011. He also was the creator of the Top 10, Contractor's Choice Awards and Recycling Awards platforms, as well as ROADS & BRIDGES Live.

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