Shawn Wilson

Shawn Wilson, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development

Shawn Wilson, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development, declined Friday to overturn his decision for awarding a $5 million contract as part of efforts to build a new bridge across the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge.

Wilson's choice was appealed by AECOM Technical Services Inc., which got the highest score on the technical survey. The secretary awarded the contract to the third-place finisher – Atlas Technical Consultants LLC.

A hearing on the appeal took place on Jan. 21.

In his written decision, the secretary noted that technical scores are not the only factor in choosing a firm. He said the views of regional leaders and members of the Capital Area Road and Bridge District, which is leading efforts to finance a new bridge, were also taken into consideration.

"I believe the integrity and trust in our process is evident by the fact  that only three selections have been appealed in over four years of billions of dollars in selections," Wilson wrote.

He said that, "after careful consideration, the arguments of the appellant do not warrant the reversal of the selection."

Atlas is owned by Bernhard Capital Partners, which is owned by bridge proponent Jim Bernhard.

The scores were AECOM, 74.01; Michael Baker International, 72.59 and Atlas, 61.98.

Wilson also said workload was a consideration in his decision.

He said while the contract will be administered by DOTD, members of the Capital Area Road and Bridge District and parish leaders "have expressed the desire for interaction with the consultant and project manager that rises to a greater level than the traditional project."

"This consideration was not included in the technical evaluation and is appropriately considered at the level of the secretary," Wilson wrote.

The seven-member Capital Area board includes parish leaders from East Baton Rouge, Ascension and Livingston parishes, Wilson and others.

One of the 10 subcontractors on the Atlas contract is FIGG Bridge Engineers, a Tallahassee, Fla. firm involved in construction of a pedestrian bridge that collapsed onto a Miami highway in 2018.

Wilson noted earlier that FIGG's role will be planning, not construction.

“AECOM appreciates and respects the decision of Secretary Wilson and the Department of Transportation and Development," AECOM said in a statement issued by Michael Chee, a spokesman.

"The continuous need for infrastructure improvement in both the region’s and the nation’s bridges and highways remains an important focus for our company and we look forward to future opportunities to collaborate with the state of Louisiana and the DOTD in contributing to these improvements whenever possible.”

A new bridge would cost at least $1 billion, and no funding source has been identified.

Wilson said earlier this week that, even if funds were in place to launch the project, it would be about four years for the state to finish its site selection and environmental review.

Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.