San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

May 28th, 2009
Engineering firms flock for Hays road bond work

by BRAD ROLLINS
Managing Editor

A weak market for engineering services has handed an unexpected problem to Hays County commissioners trying to get work underway on road projects for which $207 million in general obligation bonds were approved by voters in November.

Nearly 90 firms who responded to the county’s request for qualifications from professional services companies are competing for work ranging from general civil engineering of expanded county roadways to a slew of auxiliary tasks such as surveying, right-of-way acquisition and environmental and hydrological studies. Consultants working for the county say the glut of engineers, and construction companies, seeking work will help drive down costs in the $207 million package but that it also frustrates attempts to numerically score and rank each prospective contractor.

Pct. 4 Commissioner Karen Ford in particular said she is not happy with program manager HDR Engineering’s recommendation that all 87 firms be pre-certified and commissioners select from that list. Fifty-seven firms were approved for general civil engineering of about $60 million in county projects while the remainder qualified, according to HDR’s recommendations, for other types of work. (Engineering firms for about $150 million state highway projects, funded through “pass-through” financing, have already been selected.)

She said the open-ended nature of the contract awards would leave elected officials “politically liable” for the selections and was not fair to firms who crafted their responses to specific criteria laid out in the RFQ such as credit for firms who hire racial minorities.

“It seems so random to me, and so subjective. I just want to take this level of subjectivity out of it. We asked firms to jump through quite a few hoops … and now we’re changing the game in a way,” Ford said.

Ford convinced her colleagues to send the recommendations back to the consultants with instructions to work out some sort of scoring system for competing firms.

Eighty-seven firms are competing for work on Hays County’s package of $60 million in county roads compared with 46 who responded to a RFQ in 2008 for Williamson County’s $228 million package, said Mike Weaver of Prime Strategies, whose firm is program manager for the state highway portion of the bond package.

“There just is not much work in the consulting industry. Not many people are building roads right now,” Weaver said.

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