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Originally published July 9, 2013 at 7:06 PM | Page modified July 9, 2013 at 10:28 PM

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Sound Transit tunnel contract may be delayed

Traylor Frontier-Kemper has asked Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl to rebid the Northgate tunnel contract because of shortcomings in informing bidders of a change in payment policy.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Sound Transit could delay the awarding of its biggest-ever construction contract to take a closer look at a losing bidder’s complaint that a computer glitch delayed its receipt of a critical bid document.

Traylor Frontier-Kemper, a joint venture, filed an appeal Tuesday asking Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl to rebid the contract to build a light-rail tunnel from Husky Stadium to Northgate.

Sound Transit rejected TFK’s $465 million bid as unresponsive because TFK didn’t acknowledge receiving a document that changes a contract payment formula.

The document was emailed to hundreds of representatives of prospective contractors and subcontractors but failed to reach many of them, Sound Transit has acknowledged. It was sent two days after an upgrade of the eBid Systems online procurement system.

The apparent low bidder, JCM Northlink LLC, offered to do the job for $440 million. Three other bids were priced between the TFK and JCM offers, and one was higher than both.

All bids were significantly under the engineer’s estimate of $594 million. The winning bidder will bore 3.4 miles of twin tunnels connecting the future stadium, University District, Roosevelt and Northgate stations.

The $2.1 billion Northgate Link extension is scheduled to open in 2021.

On such a big job, said Traylor Brothers General Counsel Steve Owen, “You would think they would be bending over backwards to make sure this went smoothly and achieving the highest standards of excellence in procurement.

“Instead, it’s kind of like the Keystone Kops are running things.”

Sound Transit rejected TFK’s initial request that the contract be rebid, saying the bidder had several opportunities to receive a May 20 document informing bidders the transit agency would no longer withhold 5 percent of payments pending completion of construction.

The document was posted online nine days before the deadline for bids, emailed to one Frontier-Kemper employee, and accessed online by another employee the afternoon before the bid deadline, Sound Transit said. At times the online posting disappeared.

Ted Lucas, the agency’s procurement and contracts director, told TFK it was the only bidder that didn’t acknowledge receiving the May 20 document. If TFK felt it didn’t have enough time to prepare its bid, “It should have notified Sound Transit” before the bid deadline, Lucas wrote.

But in an appeal sent Tuesday to Sound Transit chief Earl, TFK said the two employees who supposedly received the document in question denied seeing it. The appeal cites a May 24 email from eBid Systems to four Sound Transit employees reporting that four “large message batches from Sound Transit had failed this week but were incorrectly displayed as ‘sent’ in the log.”

The bid deadline was May 30.

Fourteen of 15 representatives of TFK and its subcontractors didn’t receive the May 20 email with the document about payments, according to Sound Transit records cited by TFK.

Because bidders may have become aware of Sound Transit’s new payment policy at different times, bidding wasn’t conducted “on a level playing field,” Owen said.

Sound Transit extended by six days the deadline for a smaller contract — for underground utility location — because of the same kind of eBid glitches, agency spokesman Geoff Patrick said.

The Sound Transit Board’s Capital Committee will consider on Thursday whether to recommend the full board authorize a contract with low bidder JCM, a partnership of Jay Dee Contractors, Frank Coluccio Construction and Michels Corp.

But Patrick said the complaint must be resolved before the contract can be awarded.

“There’s a process here for complaints like this to be reviewed, and we’re going to review it under that process. Joni is going to thoroughly review the issue,” Patrick said.

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com

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