Special Reports

High court takes appeal on bridge bidding process

The Washington State Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments on a lawsuit filed by a group that objects to the state charging tolls to pay for a second Tacoma Narrows bridge.

Thurston County Superior Court Judge Daniel Berschauer has ruled against the group, saying the state didn't need to seek competitive bids from contractors to work on the bridge.

But Citizens Against Tolls appealed to the state Supreme Court, contending citizens were wronged when the state failed to look for the lowest price.

"This is perhaps the largest public works project the state has seen in decades, yet it's not being competitively bid," said Shawn Newman, attorney for the citizens' group. "CAT is concerned that toll-payers at the end of the day will pay for this failure to follow state bidding laws."

But assistant attorney general Deborah Cade said officials followed a competitive selection process that required the Department of Transportation to negotiate an agreement.

The state last year awarded the $615 million job to Tacoma Narrows Constructors, whose parent companies have been working on the project for several years.

The project was designed and will be built under terms of a 1993 law that allows the state to work with a single company.

Cade said the two laws are in conflict.

"You can't comply with both the public-private statute and competitive bidding," she said.

The state's highest court likely will hear arguments in the fall. Newman said construction work won't be affected unless and until the court rules in favor of his group.

Karen Hucks: 253-597-8660