Engineers warn against picking lowest bidder for infrastructure jobs

Politics

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — Engineers who draw up blueprints for roads, bridges, airports, and water treatment plants are warning lawmakers against backing a proposal they claim would give the lowest bidder an upper hand at building and designing critical infrastructure projects.

Six House Republicans have signed onto a measure that would alter the Local Government Professional Services Selection Act and allow competing firms to submit the cost of their proposal into their original bid instead of using the current ‘Qualification-Based Selection’ program.

According to Kevni Artl, the president and CEO of the American Council of Engineering Companies, 46 states require governments to review an engineering firm’s qualifications before negotiating prices for the job. He expressed concerns that opening up a price-driven bidding war on advanced engineering jobs could drive down the quality and leave roads less safe.

“This is required by the federal government,” Artl said on Tuesday. “It really does yield the best product. You want innovation at this level, because innovation at this level yields savings down the road on construction and all that. So if you’re gonna pay for less, you’re not going to get innovation, you’re not going to get the newest strategies on building bridges or maintaining roads.”

A recent report from the Biden administration graded Illinois’ infrastructure at a C-, costing drivers an extra $609 per year on average, and driving commute times 7.3% higher since 2011.

“Everybody drives the roads and bridges,” Roger Driskell, Director of Surface Transportation at Crawford, Murphy and Tilly’s said from his company’s headquarters in Springfield on Tuesday. “They they see that there’s a need out there for updates and improvement.”

His engineering firm designs plans for roads, bridges, airports, and water treatment plants across several states. Roughly one-third of the company’s 360 employees work on projects in Illinois.

He warned that giving the work of planning or designing critical infrastructure projects to the lowest bidder could result in shoddy work that carries long term costs and consequences.

“If a bridge is designed improperly or wrong, it won’t last as long,” Driskell said. “You’ll be in repairing it 20 years sooner, it may have potholes. I mean, heaven forbid you have a failure.”

Four of the six Republicans sponsoring the proposal were contacted for comment on Tuesday. Each of them declined to comment.

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