(CBS4) – Two years after a scathing audit found the Colorado Department of Transportation had significant budgeting problems, a state senator is calling for another official review.
State Sen. Ray Scott wants to know why the agency is giving one out-of-state company the bulk of its big projects, even when the company’s bids are millions of dollars higher than Colorado-based companies.
Kraemer North America — which is owned by a Tokyo-based company called Obyashi — is not only leading the Interstate 25 north and south widening projects, but the Twin Tunnels at Idaho Springs, construction west of Loveland Pass, and the Highway 36 repair, among other projects.
“We just want transparency,” said Scott.
For 2 years, he says, he’s been trying to figure out why CDOT keeps going with Kraemer for big projects and why some of those projects are costing millions of dollars more than originally projected.
He’s floated legislation, filed open records requests, even asked the state attorney general to investigate.
“So the next natural step is to go to the audit committee and say ‘Hey, let’s audit all these things and try to figure out where this money’s going, who’s spending it and why are particular contractors being selected over everyone else in State of Colorado?'”
Specifically, he wants to know why Kraemer is getting so many jobs regardless of whether it’s the low bidder.
“95% of all projects around the country are all low bid, yet Colorado continues down a different path.”
While CDOT awards smaller projects to contractors with the lowest bid, it uses a different selection method for bigger projects, only allowing certain contractors to even apply for the work and — Scott says — most Colorado-based companies aren’t on the shortlist.
“And we can’t even find out who the people are that make the decision about the contractors that get to come to the table,” he said.
CDOT says it’s based on a company’s experience with complex projects and its ability to meet goals like minimizing lane closures or daytime impacts, for example, and that may come at a higher cost.
But Scott says contractors he’s talked to say it’s more like a beauty pageant, subjective in nature.
He says the agency has also refused to release details on the increased cost of projects like I-25 North, which doubled in price to $500 million.
“All’s we want to know is what did that shovel of dirt cost? What did that barrel of concrete cost? But CDOT says that’s proprietary information,” he said. “Taxpayers deserve … to understand where the money is going and if not a secret, what’s the big deal?”
CDOT says the reason I-25 North doubled in price is because it initially called for a temporary change in alignment, but the legislature provided money to make long-term changes, which cost more. It says all of the price information will be made public when the project is complete.
The Legislative Audit Committee will take up Scott’s request for an audit on Monday.