Contract in Md. Beltway, I-270 project pulled from consideration

Traffic flows on Interstate 270 in this WTOP file photo. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
WASHINGTON — A $68.5 million contract tied to the plan to rebuild parts of the Beltway and I-270 was pulled from consideration before the Maryland Board of Public Works Wednesday over concerns about how the contract was awarded.

Jim Shea, a Democrat running for governor, sent the Board of Public Works, which approves state contracts, a letter outlining his concerns ahead of Wednesday’s meeting. Prime among the concerns of Shea and others is the speed with which the management contract sought by HNTB moved through the Maryland Department of Transportation’s approval process.

The firm was granted a waiver of the state’s usual competitive bid process and gained approval in weeks instead of the months it can typically take. “Nobody wants to delay the overall process,” Shea told WTOP, but he noted that most contract approvals take 18 months or longer. “What’s the hurry-hurry?” he said.

Shea also mentioned the connection between Secretary of Transportation Pete Rahn and HNTB. Rahn worked for the company for five years.

“The process irregularities combined with the closeness of Rahn to the winning bidder, I think that combination is what raises the questions,” Shea said. “These questions need to be answered to make sure the citizens of Maryland get a fair deal.”

The Daily Record first reported Rahn’s connection to the contract.

MDOT spokeswoman Erin Henson issued a statement saying the contract was withdrawn from consideration Wednesday “to ensure that any questions members of the board have about the project are fully addressed.”

Henson said the multibillion dollar overhaul of the Capital Beltway and I-270 “is extremely complex, and the department is committed to working with the Board of Public Works, elected officials and all stakeholders to makes sure this transformative traffic relief initiative moves forward.”

Shea remains concerned, calling the process in this case “murky” and noting that the team of HNTB, Parsons and JMT won the bid despite coming in second in one round of consideration, but got the contract after making presentations that scored higher than other competitors.

Amelia Chasse, communications director for Gov. Larry Hogan, a member of the board, said in a statement, “Asking probing questions about procurements is why the Board of Public Works exists. The governor is a relentless advocate for the board’s oversight role, and has fought to preserve this authority at every turn. The department should — and will — answer any and all questions about this procurement process so the state’s chief fiscal officers can ensure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and ultimately move this transformative project forward.”

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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