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Transit officials to take closer look at legal tangles involving bidders for second phase of Expo light rail

January 7, 2011 |  7:30 am

Transportation officials have decided to take a closer look at two bidders seeking to build the second phase of the $1.5-billion Expo light-rail line from Culver City to Santa Monica. An initial review of the firms turned up a trail of federal investigations, fraud allegations and past construction problems, officials said.

The Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority has ordered an in-depth performance analysis of the Skanska/Rados and the URS/Shimmick joint ventures. Both are prospective finalists.

“This is important and indicative of a new level of awareness by the board that we should be proactive,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who is a member of the Expo board and requested the initial review of the bidders.

The inspector general’s office of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority will handle the more detailed analysis, which includes contacting previous clients to assess each company’s performance and responsibility on other construction projects.

Federal investigators in New York are looking at Skanska USA Civil Northwest, a subsidiary of Skanska USA. There are allegations that the subsidiary used front companies to evade requirements that they hire a certain number of subcontractors owned by women, minorities or businesses that have been officially designated as disadvantaged.

Skanska USA, a major construction company, also is the parent company of Skanska USA Civil West, which is interested in participating in the Expo project. Its partner in the joint venture is Steve P. Rados Inc. based in Santa Ana. The inspector general’s initial review did not find anything questionable about Rados’ past performance on contracts.

Skanska executives could not be reached for comment, but Steve S. Rados, co-president of Rados Inc., defended Skanska USA Civil West as a “first-rate outfit” that he had no reason to doubt. He added that he has no problem with the new performance review.

Among other things, the inspector general found that URS Corp. agreed to pay $5 million in damages to the state of Minnesota and $52 million to the victims of the Interstate 35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis three year ago. The report stated that the company was hired to analyze the integrity of the bridge and failed to discover structural defects.

Jamie Tully, a spokesman for URS, defended the firm, saying it is “one of the country’s leading providers of engineering design and construction services for light-rail projects.”

A full story will follow.

-- Dan Weikel

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