The second of two losing bidders for the multimillion-dollar contract to replace and run Maryland's two Interstate 95 travel plazas has filed a protest with the Maryland Transportation Authority over the way it handled the bidding process.
Airport Plazas LLC and Tishman Construction, joint bidders for the project, claim the authority allowed Areas USA, the winning bidder, to ignore some of the requirements contained in the request for proposals.
They also claim the authority then allowed Areas USA to sweeten its offer without extending that opportunity to the competition.
Stefano Pascucci, executive vice president of development for Airport Plazas, said that his company had done many public-private partnerships but that it had "never seen anything quite like this one."
"The whole thing was quite unusual," he said of the bidding process for the travel plazas contract.
Continued Pascucci: "It's like Kobe Bryant hits a three-pointer to win the game and then the referees say: 'They're not worth three points anymore, they're worth one. You lose.'"
Last week, the other losing bidder, Bethesda-based HMSHost, filed a protest claiming that the transportation authority did not follow state procurement law and used a flawed process in evaluating the three proposals.
A spokesman for the authority declined to comment while the protests were being reviewed by the state attorney general's office. A spokesman for Areas USA said it would not comment on the bid process.
The Board of Public Works is scheduled to vote on the contract Feb. 22. State transportation officials say they don't intend to delay action because of the protests.
Meanwhile, a bill has been filed in Annapolis at the request of the O'Malley administration to spell out the policies concerning public-private partnerships and to amend laws governing them. The bill is to be heard by the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on March 7.
The proposed legislation was recommended last year by the governor's blue-ribbon panel on public-private partnerships.
On Tuesday, Jaclyn Hartman, an analyst for the Department of Legislative Services, told a Senate committee that the Areas proposal "adequately covers a variety of contingencies, adequately protects the state, and provides a good value to the state."
But Pascucci said Areas ignored bid requirements such as including a sit-down restaurant, having alternative fuels available, and providing an improved service area for trucks.
"Areas isn't a bad company. But if you didn't meet the requirements, how did you win?" Pascucci said. "We checked off everything in the boxes and got beaten by someone who didn't."
Airport Plazas, based in Long Island, N.Y., builds and operates concessions in terminals across the country. New York City-based Tishman is one of the nation's leading construction management companies, overseeing projects such as the original World Trade Center and its replacement, as well as the Ronald Reagan Office Building and International Trade Center in Washington.
The two formed a joint venture company called Maryland Energy Centers for the sole purpose of bidding on the two I-95 travel plazas.
To secure the contract, Areas agreed to spend $56 million to replace Maryland House in Harford County and Chesapeake House in Cecil County by 2014. Both plazas are more than 35 years old and "functionally obsolete," state officials say. The state would receive revenue-sharing payments totaling as much as $488 million over the life of the 35-year contract.
Bidders were required to meet three goals: to supply new or near-new facilities, to ensure "a positive customer experience," and to provide "a fair return" to the state.
Pascucci said that the goals were vague and that the state never assigned any kind of scoring system to the evaluation panel of six state employees.
"There's really no rules to this game. I think the state knows it has an issue because if it didn't it wouldn't be looking at legislation," he said. "You never put your best offer out there first. We kept something in the tank for the next round. We just never got there."