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Contract for new Metrorail cars moves forward

A group of Miami-Dade commissioners agreed on Monday to award a stalled, $313 million contract for new Metrorail cars to an Italian firm.

The five-member regional transportation committee unanimously signed off on Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s recommendation to hire AnsaldoBreda to replace 136 aging Metrorail cars. The deal now heads to the full, 13-member commission for final approval.

A selection committee had originally picked AnsaldoBreda for the project last year. The runner-up company, CAF-USA, filed a local protest and lost, but then complained to federal regulators that the county had mishandled the selection process. CAF, based in Elmira, N.Y., is a subsidiary of the Spanish firm Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles.

In November, the Federal Transit Administration agreed with CAF that the county violated federal procurement rules by favoring AnsaldoBreda because it proposed to assemble the railcars locally. The county risked losing federal funding for at least part of the project if it didn’t follow the rules. The rest will be paid for by issuing bonds backed by county transportation-tax money.

In December, the selection committee reaffirmed its choice of AnsaldoBreda — a unit of the Italian firm Finmeccanica — without considering local geographic preference as a factor. Gimenez backed the selection last month.

Monday’s meeting drew a throng of lobbyists from both companies.

Miguel De Grandy, a lobbyist for CAF, argued that the reconvened selection committee did not conduct a detailed analysis of the proposals as required by the FTA’s ruling.

“In less than two hours, guess what?” he said. “They reached the same results.”

He also suggested the commission could renegotiate CAF’s higher bid price — which came in about $5 million higher than AnsaldoBreda’s — and pointed to other cities where AnsaldoBreda has had delays in delivering equipment. Al Dotson, a lobbyist for AnsaldoBreda, countered that the county could run afoul of procurement rules if it ignored his client’s lower bid price. And he mentioned instances where CAF projects have run into trouble.

“Each of us has had issues from time to time,” he said. “At the end of the day, what the agencies say is that we deliver on our promises, and we provide reliable vehicles.”

He also emphasized that CAF did not formally protest the selection committee’s latest recommendation.

Commissioners ultimately endorsed AnsaldoBreda, but only after expressing their frustration with the slow-moving bid.

“It’s getting ridiculous now,” Commissioner Audrey Edmonson said. “I would like to see us finally get something done here.”

Other commissioners on the committee are Bruno Barreiro, Sally Heyman, Dennis Moss and Xavier Suarez.

Earlier Monday, the committee supported a separate measure awarding a $25 million contract to Munilla Construction Management to build a test track for Metrorail cars. De Grandy had suggested the track could unfairly benefit AnsaldoBreda, which does not have a U.S. test track. The county says it has wanted a test track for years.