The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State budget: a closer look

June 26, 2011

State shutdown would halt new Hwy. 14 interchange

MANKATO — Many road construction projects, even state-funded ones, can continue in a state government shutdown, at least for a few weeks. Cities and counties can pay out of their own pocket, and even hire the private sector to do the state’s oversight work.

But at least one major project would likely be stopped if a shutdown lasted a week or more.

Blue Earth County plans to award a contract July 8 to begin moving soil for a Highway 14 interchange at County Road 12, which is being extended south.

Because the project is partially federally funded, the county cannot award the project until the state approves a requirement that 2.5 percent of the contract is given to minority-owned businesses, County Engineer Al Forsberg said.

The federal program, called Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, is meant to “remedy past and current discrimination against disadvantaged business enterprises,” among other goals, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s website.

Forsberg said contractors are responsible for verifying they meet the threshold, but the state has to approve it.

“It would be so unfortunate because we’ve worked so hard to get through all the requirements, agreements, plan approvals, (and) we’re finally advertising (for bids),” he said.

Forsberg said the county is trying to shorten any delay by requiring all bidding contractors — not just the winning bidder — to verify they meet the 2.5 percent threshold. That would save the few days the winning bidder would have used to compile their paperwork.

Forsberg said the soil moving should be done the year before the actual construction so the dirt has time to settle.

For the already under way projects, including a County Road 12 bridge north of the intersection, the county can pay contractors with its own money and wait for reimbursement.

The state also typically tests the strength of road materials such as concrete, aggregate and asphalt in its materials lab. The lab would be closed in a shutdown, but the county could, at its own expense, hire a private lab for the testing.

The county may or may not get paid back, but the alternative is worse.

“See, the thing is we’re halfway through the construction season,” Forsberg said. “We can’t afford to stop and wait.”

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