This week, Maryland governor Larry Hogan indicated the need to begin a new procurement process for the I-495 & I-270 P3 advisory contract, following claims of a lack of competition surrounding the original deal.
After a swift process that saw the Department of Transportation (MDOT) appoint a joint venture of HNTB, JMT and Parsons as general engineering consultant on the deal in March, Hogan has called time on the apparent deal.
The chief issue in this case is related to Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn’s former role as a former employee of HNTB and his role in the team’s selection.
The procurement was carried out through a waiver process made possible by the procurement reform law that passed unanimously in the 2017 legislative session.
This reform law built upon the P3 legislation passed under the previous administration providing more flexibility in procurement for large, complex projects like the Traffic Relief Plan to be successful. Allowing for an expedited procurement schedule to get projects moving has had bipartisan support under two administrations.
Rightly or wrongly, under the laws, Maryland were not required to carry out a competitive process, but it should be noted did so anyway, with a selection committee making the final decision on the best consortium to deliver the project. Rahn, although available in the presentation and deliberation phase, did not cast a vote.
It is easy to see why this rather confusing law has led to this situation and, to some extent, calls for a more traditional procurement process are understandable. However, it is important to clarify that MDOT has acknowledged the concerns and is willingly now partaking in a new process.
These actions are key to allaying the usual concerns from P3 naysayers that could be quick to highlight another supposed example of a lack of competition on a deal. The US P3 market needs these kinds of negative headlines like a hole in the head, so hopefully a retendering of the deal will prove to be the best thing for all concerned.
It must also be noted that there has been some confusion surrounding the nature of this deal, with some people confusing this $68.5m general engineering consultant contract with the wider $7.6bn Traffic Relief Plan project.
It is vital to highlight the difference, not just for accuracy of reporting the facts, but also because it is reassuring that any issues that have arisen to now can contribute to lessons learned for the bigger project in the future – something MDOT has already noted.
This is a fresh chance to start again, and hopefully highlight the value that P3 can still bring to a very important project for the region.