SALT LAKE CITY — The state's largest labor union is both praising and criticizing two of Utah's biggest highway construction projects.
The AFL-CIO was complimentary toward the workers and contractors hired for the I-15 corridor expansion project in Utah County but was much less flattering about the work done on state Route 92 near American Fork Canyon.
Recently, Gov. Gary Herbert commented on both projects, indicating the efficient rebuild of I-15 vindicated controversial state decisions about awarding the $1.1 billion contract to Provo River Constructors.
In a press release, Utah teamsters president Dale Cox praised the local workers involved in the project, describing them as "middle-income Utahns trying to raise a family, pay their bills, support public education and state, county and municipal government services with the taxes they pay," while trying to save money to "send their kids to college."
"At the AFL-CIO, we are trying to ensure workers, whether union or non-union, are highly trained, professional and skilled," Cox said. "Additionally, we support our many quality Utah general and subcontractors who are in business to be profitable, but place as an equal priority completing their projects on time, under budget and employing a trained workforce."
While Cox lauded the work done on the I-15 CORE project, he said the quality of the contractors and workers involved in the state Route 92 project were less than stellar, resulting in poor performance.
"Comparatively speaking, one of the primary contractors on (the state Route 92 project) has a very short history of doing business in Utah," he said. "As we can see here, the projects they have worked on have not produced similar results as the Interstate 15 project."
The principal contractor on the project, Flatiron Construction, experienced extensive delays, resulting in $4.4 million in total fines, according to the Utah Department of Transportation.
It was Flatiron's first Utah project, UDOT spokesman Nile Easton said. While the project was eventually completed with no added cost to taxpayers, Flatiron admittedly made some miscalculations in its construction plans.
In choosing contractors, Easton said UDOT uses two methods — one called "best value," in which the overall bid is made based on finite budget amount and time constraints. The other is "low bid," in which the major consideration is budgetary.
Easton said being able to have both options to work with is very important, depending upon the size and scope of the project.
"Value selection can be very, very important to us, the taxpayers and the project," he said. "But there are other times on smaller projects when it is good to have a low-bid environment."
In the future, rather than tweaking the bid process, construction bids should be awarded on quality performance and the use of an experienced and trained workforce rather than on which company submits a low bid, Cox said.
Easton noted that in the case of both the I-15 CORE and state Route 92 projects, each contractor was selected using the "best value" method.
"For UDOT, so much depends on the type of project and the impacts the project will have," he said. "Having both contracting tools available really ends up being the best for us and the best for taxpayers."