State hiring rule delays Glenwood Street reconstruction
As the calendar flips to July, work on one of Duluth's most ambitious and widely anticipated city road projects has yet to shift into first gear. Not even a shovel has been lifted on Glenwood Street, and Duluth City Councilor Todd Fedora has been...
As the calendar flips to July, work on one of Duluth's most ambitious and widely anticipated city road projects has yet to shift into first gear.
Not even a shovel has been lifted on Glenwood Street, and Duluth City Councilor Todd Fedora has been hearing from irritated Lakeside constituents.
"It's time for something to happen. That road needs to be done, and our construction season is evaporating," an exasperated Fedora said Wednesday morning.
The design for the road had been approved, the contract had been awarded and construction crews were ready to roll. But Jim Benning, Duluth's director of public works and utilities, said the state still hadn't signed off on the $4.1 million project as of Wednesday morning.
Benning said state officials had not responded to multiple requests from the city about the status of the Glenwood project.
There apparently was concern that the project would fail to provide enough work for construction firms owned by women or minorities and certified as "disadvantaged business enterprises" or DBEs for short.
To remain eligible to receive federal money for its projects, the Minnesota Department of Transportation is required to channel a certain portion of its construction budget to DBEs. For the current fiscal year, MnDOT set its goal for DBE spending at 8.5 percent of road and bridge expenditures.
Wagner Construction Inc., which submitted the winning low bid for Glenwood, plans to direct less than 1 percent of its business to DBE contractors. The International Falls-based business attempted to contact more than 50 registered DBEs working in applicable areas and received only three responses, said Matt Guerton, Wagner's project manager. Just one of those firms submitted a competitive bid, he said, and that contractor was retained.
Although Wagner was able to steer only a small amount of its budget to DBEs, Guerton said the company made a good-faith effort to enlist them as partners.
He expressed relief when MnDOT finally signed off on the project Wednesday afternoon -- more than a month after receiving an application for approval along with supporting documentation.
Earlier Wednesday, the Duluth News Tribune caught up with Mary Prescott, a fiscal and administrative services manager for MnDOT, who said the state doesn't apply a blanket standard to the whole state when it comes to DBE spending.
"Obviously, the majority of the state's DBEs are in the metro area, so we try to balance out between the metro and the rest of the state," she said.
Prescott said she'd look into status of the Glenwood project Wednesday morning, and later that afternoon the city received notice that Wagner's DBE certification for the job had been approved.
Guerton said the state's 8.5 percent threshold for DBE spending was virtually unattainable in northern Minnesota.
"From a social vantage point, they're trying to do a good thing," he said. "But they need to understand that we do not have the demographics to reach their target percentage up here."
With proper approvals now in hand, Guerton expects work on Glenwood to begin next week.
Despite the delays, Matt Decur, project manager for the city of Duluth, said he remains confident the two-year project can be completed by the end of next year. He noted that more of the work may need to be pushed to year two of the project than originally planned, however.
That's good news for people who use Glenwood Street.
"It's in terrible shape," said Ted Kochevar, who lives in the 5400 block of Glenwood. "It used to be the second-worst road in Duluth, and now that Woodland's being redone, it's the worst. Glenwood's also a very busy street," he noted.
The street is in such rough shape that Kochevar said his whole home vibrates when large vehicles hit potholes outside his home.
Fedora said people have a right to be frustrated. Besides slowing the project's completion, he said the unfixed road has taken "a toll in bent tie rods, broken ball joints and flat tires."