Losing bidder asks judge to block vote on travel plazas contract

A losing bidder for the nearly half-billion-dollar contract to build and run two new travel plazas on Interstate 95 has asked a Montgomery County circuit judge to block state officials from voting on the agreement the morning of March 7 as planned.

Judge Eric Johnson has scheduled a hearing on the request by HMSHost for Friday morning, at which time he will also hear arguments from the Maryland Transportation Authority and winning bidder Areas USA to lift a temporary restraining order and allow the contract vote by the Board of Public Works.

HMSHost officials contend that the transportation authority violated its own procurement procedures when it selected Areas to rebuild Maryland House in Harford County and Chesapeake House in Cecil County and allowed the Miami-based firm to sweeten its offer without extending the same opportunity to them.

Officials of Bethesda-based HMSHost want the state to rebid the project.

Transportation officials deny any wrongdoing and say Areas had the most impressive proposal for customer service and offered the greatest return to the state. They say the deal could be worth as much as $488 million over the 35-year life of the contract.

The Board of Public Works, consisting of Gov. Martin O'Malley, Treasurer Nancy Kopp and Comptroller Peter Franchot, voted unanimously Feb. 22 to defer its decision while the judge decided whether to issue a 10-day restraining order.

In a ruling hours later, Johnson granted the order and told all parties to return for a full hearing on March 7, the same day the Board of Public Works is to hold its rescheduled vote.

In their filing Wednesday, HMSHost officials said Areas and the transportation authority refused their request to delay the vote, forcing them to ask for an extension to March 13 to avoid "unnecessary rush and brinksmanship."


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