For MDOT, there’s no more time to lose on Gateway project

By John Gallagher
Detroit Free Press Business Writer

Less than a week after a judge ordered the Michigan Department of Transportation to take over the disputed Gateway project, MDOT said Monday it intends to begin seeking bids from private firms later this month to complete the long-delayed work.

MDOT told the Free Press it expects to issue a Request for Qualifications the week of March 26 and solicit bids for the work during the week of April 2. The department said it hopes to award a contract by mid-April.

Gateway is a $230-million project planned since the mid-1990s to ease border crossings by connecting the Ambassador Bridge directly to nearby interstates.

MDOT’s goal is to choose a firm or team of firms to develop plans to get thousands of trucks off Fort Street and other local streets as soon as possible, as well as complete the overall project.

The work will include removal of the controversial Pier 19, the ramp to nowhere alongside the Ambassador that the Detroit International Bridge Co. hoped would become its second span to Windsor.

Coming so soon after Wayne County Circuit Judge Prentis Edwards ordered MDOT to take over the project from DIBC, the announcement underscores the department’s wish to avoid further delays.

“Since Thursday’s court order, we have worked in dog years to deliver this project as quickly as possible,” said Tony Kratofil, MDOT’s regional engineer for southeast Michigan.

In a design-build process as MDOT will employ, private consultants and contractors will construct the remaining work on DIBC property under MDOT oversight. The department said it determined this would be the fastest way to complete the Gateway project, now about four years behind schedule.

MDOT signed a contract in 2004 with the bridge company, owned by billionaire businessman Manuel (Matty) Moroun and his family, to jointly build the project.

But MDOT sued the bridge company in 2009 when it saw that DIBC had built a duty-free facility and the Pier 19 ramp in areas where Gateway roads and ramps were supposed to go. Thousands of trucks a day still travel local streets instead of connecting directly to the expressways.

In early 2010, Edwards ordered Moroun’s company to remove the interfering facilities and rebuild Gateway according to the agreed-upon design. Since then, MDOT has complained that DIBC was stalling. The judge, fed up with delays, last week ordered MDOT to seize control of the project.

Edwards also told the bridge company to deposit $16 million into a special account to pay for the work. That amount is the judge’s estimate of what it will cost to complete Gateway.

Bridge company officials have not yet commented on Edwards’ ruling.