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Utah's Right to Know
Donald Meyers
Donald W. Meyers writes about open-government issues for The Salt Lake Tribune. He is also the site manager of utahsright.com, the Tribune's online database of public records. He is also a member of the Society of Professional Journalists' National Freedom of Information Committee and sits on the board of directors of the Utah Foundation for Open Government.

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GRAMA, public records illuminated I-15 project controversy

With the reconstructed Interstate 15 in Utah County open, it is fitting to look back at the role open records played in the controversial project.

The $1.1 billion I-15 Corridor Reconstruction saw the highway and many interchanges rebuilt, and had thousands of drivers weaving around orange construction barrels for more than two years. But there were also allegations that Provo River Constructors received the contract through political connections rather than through merit.

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Reviewing bid records, The Salt Lake Tribune found that a Utah Department of Transportation committee tweaked contract scores to give Provo River Constructors the edge over Flatiron/Skanska/Zachry (FSZ) in awarding the bid.

At the time, Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon questioned whether Provo River Constructor’s $87,500 contribution to Gov. Gary Herbert’s 2010 campaign had influenced the bid process.

UDOT Executive Director John Njord told a legislative committee that while he could find no bias in the way the committee members adjusted the scores, the process "looked bad" and the state paid FSZ $13 million to settle its protest.

A state audit found that the evaluators did not experience undue influence in their decision-making, but it also noted that because of the subjectivity of the evaluations and lack of documentation, it was difficult to draw a conclusion as to the legitimacy of the bid process.

And in 2011, the Utah State Legislature passed a law requiring that UDOT needed approval from the Transportation Commission to pay settlements in excess of $100,000, while the governor and the commission would have to weigh in on settlements greater than $500,000, and the Legislative Management Committee, the governor and the commission would have to OK settlements of $1 million or more.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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