See more of the story

A state legislator whose neighbor was on the Interstate 35W bridge when it collapsed five years ago has asked Gov. Mark Dayton not to give the bridge’s consultant more state contracts.

Rep. Tom Tillberry, DFL-Fridley, was the latest person to focus on URS Corp., a state consultant on the 35W bridge in Minneapolis that is now vying to obtain a large contract to help build the proposed Southwest Corridor light-rail line.

In a letter Tuesday to the governor, who has also expressed concerns about giving URS more state work, Tillberry urged Dayton to have the Metropolitan Council carefully consider awarding URS more contracts.

“As a retiring legislator, I don’t have a horse in this race,” said Tillberry, who added that URS had also worked on the Martin Sabo bridge in Minneapolis that was recently closed for emergency repairs. “[But] this company has clearly shown that they cannot be entrusted to build projects that will keep Minnesotans safe.

“I, along with many other Minnesotans, lost a good friend on August 1, 2007. Others lost fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, aunts, and uncles,” said Tillberry. “I am sure that they would ask – as I do – what does a company have to do before we will cease to do business with them?”

The San Francisco-based URS was a state consultant on the 35W bridge before it collapsed in August 2007, and paid $52.4 million in 2010 to settle a lawsuit brought for killed and injured motorists who were on the bridge when it fell.

A URS spokesman said the company was only a consultant to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, and that the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the collapse was due to a decades-old design flaw compounded by extra weight on the bridge.

URS spokesman Ronald Low said the company’s team for the light rail contract was “uniquely qualified.” He added: “We strongly disagree with the issues that were raised.”

But Tillberry was just the latest person to question giving URS more state contracts.

The lawyer who represented many of the victims of the 35W bridge collapse earlier said he would “think twice” about giving URS more state business.

“You kind of have to think twice as to why the state would hire them yet again given their track record in our state,” said attorney Chris Messerly. “We uncovered a lot of issues that were extremely troubling to us” regarding the 35W bridge collapse.

“This wasn’t in our view just a negligent actor. It was someone who deliberately disregarded the public safety,” said Messerly.

“Maybe they’ve remedied all those problems – I don’t know,” he added. “But, certainly, if someone’s going to hire them they better look to see if URS has fixed their problems that led to the I-35W bridge collapsing.”