Bill would alter ‘lowest responsible bidder’ requirement for Turnpike projects

A bill that would free the N.J. Turnpike Authority from the requirement to award contracts to the lowest responsible bidder

A bill that would free the N.J. Turnpike Authority from the requirement to award contracts to the lowest responsible bidder was discussed in committee Thursday.

The Assembly Transportation, Public Works, and Independent Authorities Committee dealt with A1475, sponsored by John Wisniewski, (D-19), Sayreville, who called the bill “a work in progress’’ that would give the Authority the “discretion to award contracts for construction of a transportation project on the basis of the bid that is most advantageous to the authority, price and other factors considered.”

This bill was being considered in light of the Authority’s $8 billion capital improvement plan for state roads. It was discussed only and was not up for a vote.

If adopted, the bill would allow the Authority to negotiate a so-called “turn-key” agreement with a single entity that would then be responsible for the overall design and management of a given project.

Current law requires the Authority to separately procure each phase of a project, thus increasing costs, according to Wisniewski’s bill, because of the potential for duplication of work.

The bill would establish a “design-build delivery system,’’ a single contract between the Authority and a company to furnish the engineering, architectural and related design services of a project.

Testifying were Joseph Fiordaliso, president of the American Council of Engineering Companies of New Jersey; Evan Piscitelli, director of Legislative and Regulatory Affairs for the Utility and Transportation Contractors Association; and Michael Travostino, Government Affairs director of the Building Contractors Association of New Jersey.

Among the concerns shared by the witnesses and some committee members was transparency in light of the fact a project may not be awarded to the lowest-responsible bidder.

In addition, sponsor Wisniewski said they must examine two controversial provisions: Possibly awarding a stipend to compensate designers whose work becomes the intellectual property of the Authority; and the risk that this new type of bidding would make it even more difficult for smaller firms without a long track record to get a foot in the door.

“This will definitely make it harder for those companies to get a slice of the pie,” Wisniewski said. “There must be some protections built in.”

Piscitelli cautioned the committee to start small if this bill passes, and keep it limited to the Turnpike Authority for a few years to see how it works before possibly expanding it to other bodies.

And Travostino said, “we have concerns. We understand and recognize the need to stimulate development.  But we urge caution against legislation that lacks transparency during the process.”

The witnesses said that any bill that alters the lowest-responsible bidder concept is a major concern for the industries.

Wisniewski said more work needs to be done before the bill advances. Bill would alter ‘lowest responsible bidder’ requirement for Turnpike projects