A new bill from state Sen. George Gainer would strip Tri-Rail of state funding unless its board rescinds a controversial $511 million contract, and it requires state approval of future contracts.
The Bay County Republican’s Senate Bill 1118, introduced Tuesday, would force the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority to decide between the ten-year, $511 million operations and maintenance contract it is awarding to a sole qualified bidder, or the $42 million in state funding it expects each year.
The bill also would require state approval for any future SFRTA contracts for the South Florida commuter rail system that would be paid for with state money. Tri-Rail provides commuter rail service through Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
The South Florida Regional Transportation Authority provisions are buried in what is a much broader transportation bill from Gainer that covers everything from bridge inspections to natural gas vehicle regulations.
A companion bill, House Bill 865, from Republican state Rep. Jayer Williamson of Pace, does the same thing.
The bills continue an onslaught from Tallahassee that has included deep criticism of the SFRTA contact from Gov. Rick Scott, the Florida Department of Transportation and state Sen. Jeff Brandes, chair of theAppropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development. Brandes has called for an investigation. Scott did not include SFRTA money in his proposed budget.
They’re all criticizing the deal because the SFRTA first threw out five other proposals, all for less money, after concluding every one of the competitors violated bidding requirements.
SFRTA officials have steadfastly defended their actions and the final contract offer to Herzog Transit Services, including during a hearing before Brandes’s committee last week. Gainer is on that committee.
They’ve argued that the agency’s procurement director, with input from the authority’s lawyers and an advisory committee, ruled that the other five proposals all were made conditional, based on language the companies had included in their bids. That meant that the authority could trust none of their bottom-line prices, and was a direct violation of explicit rules the authority had spelled out before the bidding process began.
But their arguments did not allay the concerns Brandes and the others had raised, particularly since the authority’s final choice cost $115 million more than the lowest proposal, which had been rejected before it could be fully considered.