Rieth-Riley's Plenary Roads Group Wins State Street Bid, But Questions Linger

Jan 21, 2016

Rieth-Riley had already beaten out a proposal from Macquarie -- one of the companies that leased the Indiana Toll Road and then had to relinquish it when it couldn't make money on the deal.
Credit Rieth Riley / www.rieth-riley.com

More than once in a presentation explaining how a consortium led by Rieth-Riley was chosen to retrofit State Street, Purdue University counsel Steve Schultz said the team followed the letter of the law.

After the meeting, the university’s lawyer pronounced himself “perplexed” about the call for more openness.

“This project has had more public meetings approving the project than probably any one in the history of the city of West Lafayette," Schultz says. "So from the University’s perspective, we are puzzled by this clamor for more transparency.”

Build-Operate-Transfer

But comments after the announcement noted the state’s so-called “build-operate-transfer” rubric only says such projects may be kept under wraps, not that they must. Schultz noted the letter of the law says only that the documents must be made public at a meeting like Thursday’s, when the Joint Board announces a winner.

Public Support

City council president Peter Bunder wondered aloud what would happen if, at a February 21 public hearing, the public decided it didn’t like the project and wanted it changed.

Schultz says he thinks the public will be happy, but admits he, too, wonders about support for the plan after the West Lafayette Redevelopment Commission tried Wednesday to extricate itself from the project.

“We thought we had strong support with the city and its public bodies. We’re frankly not sure based on the commentary today and what’s been said about transparency whether there might be some hidden agenda.”

What kind of agenda or who might hold it Schultz could not say, though he and Redevelopment Commission President Larry Oates – who’d pushed that board’s vote questioning the process -- had a spirited discussion following the meeting Thursday.

Did I-65 Doom Walsh Construction's Bid?

A member of the Joint Board also says last summer’s bridge snafu on Interstate 65 had no bearing on Walsh Construction losing out on the $120 million contract to lead the project.

Walsh was the contractor whose equipment punctured an artesian well in Wildcat Creek, causing a bridge piling to sink several inches and causing thirty miles of the northbound lanes of highway to be closed for several weeks.

West Lafayette city engineer Dave Buck says a scoring system developed to evaluate the bids led to a consortium led by Rieth-Riley winning the bid, not the headaches caused by the bridge closure.

“There was no connection in any of the documents that we had or any of the things we were asking for," Buck says. "We’re not building a bridge. So there was no resume or anything about that that would have had any crossover between the two projects.”

Buck says Rieth-Riley’s bid, done under the name Plenary Roads State Street, scored significantly higher than Walsh’s bid, though he couldn’t provide specific numbers.

A major factor in that, he says, was Rieth-Riley’s pledge to complete not only the base project, but three additional “rungs” of amenities above and beyond the minimum requirements.

However, Buck says that’s only about a quarter of the rungs that any bid could have fulfilled – thus leaving as many as nine side projects on the cutting room floor.