A local state representative joined with colleagues on the state controlling board recently in questioning why the Ohio Department of Transportation didn’t do more to assist Ohio universities when the department sought requests for proposals for a research/planning project to improve bridge construction.
State Rep. Chris Redfern (D- Catawba Island) and at least two other members of the board indicated during a board meeting last month they wouldn’t approve a contract with Iowa State University for $166,269 even though it was lower than proposals from Cleveland State University, Case Western University, Ohio University and the University of Toledo.
Andrew Bremmer, director of legislative affairs for ODOT, described the responses from the Ohio schools as “inadequate” to board members but they weren’t swayed, according to meeting minutes.
Bremmer also said because federal funding is being used to pay for part of the project, ODOT is prohibited from indicating a preference for Ohio institutions in the requests for proposals.
But Sen. Chris Widener (R – Springfield) argued that ODOT has received a waiver from the federal government for geographic preference in previous requests. The senator said the project should have shown an Ohio preference and an Ohio school could be the lead and, in turn, retain Iowa State personnel for their expertise.
Rep. Ross McGregor (R – Springfield) agreed with Widener, saying he was skeptical Ohio universities are vague or incapable of understanding the requests for proposals.
When it became apparent the ODOT request wouldn’t be approved, Bremmer agreed to take it back to the department for further study.
“When someone comes before the controlling board, Democrats and Republicans alike ask the same questions; can someone do it cheaper with the same quality and/or why are we doing this out-of-state and not in-state?” Rep. Redfern said. “When the issue came up with Iowa State the ODOT answer was they’ve been working with them and they always do good work. That is unacceptable to not be competitive and have Ohio organizations be the first choice when awarding contracts.
“In-state may be more expensive but over the long term can you drive costs down by using an in-state vendor? Also, those resources are being used locally. I was a county commissioner and we could probably have purchased vehicles cheaper in Dayton or Indianapolis but we tried to buy from someone in Ottawa County.”
The bid proposals were:
• Cleveland State - $250,327
• Case Western - $265,577
• Iowa State - $166,269
• Ohio University - $413,761
• University of Toledo - $219,088
“This contract will develop a specification that will increase the probability of achieving crack free, long-lasting decks. The research will develop a state-of-the-art bridge concrete that will give a unique consideration to coming up with the best mix characteristics that will ultimately extend bridge life and delay (or eliminate) the need to replace decks prior to superstructure replacement,” the ODOT request says.
In its submission to the controlling board, ODOT wrote that Cleveland State’s work plan lacked detail and UT’s plan was vague and didn’t demonstrate a thorough understanding of what ODOT asked.
The Case Western research didn’t reflect research currently in progress and its methodologies were not practical. OU’s budget was “top heavy” and the work plan focused more on lab testing than field testing.