An effort by VDOT representatives to brief the Leesburg Town Council on a new design concept for the Rt. 7/Battlefield Parkway Interchange was rejected Tuesday night.
Council members refused to go into closed session to hear a presentation about an alternative design proposed by one of three contractor teams bidding on the $58 million project.
The VDOT review team was seeking feedback about whether the council objected to the alternative before the contracting team spent money pursuing the concept in greater detail.
VDOT Program Manager Tina Briganti-Dunn told the council that the state’s design-build program allows contractors to propose alternative approaches to the project. In this case, the plans involve information deemed proprietary that could not be discussed in open session.
After a months-long public process to build agreement on the project, council members raised concerns about potentially approving or endorsing changes to the interchange design behind closed doors and then not being able to discuss or present the changes with constituents. Some also worried that such review would be unfair to the other bidders, possibly opening the contract award to a protest.
“Now you’re asking us to change that design but we’re not going to let the public know,” Mayor Kelly Burk said.
But VDOT representatives said the consideration of alternative designs is an important part of the design-build contracting process. “It is a process that VDOT allows to encourage innovation—to get a faster, cheaper, better design,” Briganti-Dunnsaid, adding that all bidders have the opportunity to propose alternatives designs.
“We cannot talk about those designs and details in open session because it is considered proprietary information to that contractor,” town Capital Projects Director Renee LaFollette explained.
Still, council members were concerned that the closed-door process was unfair to the other bidders and to the public. After the brief discussion, the motion to enter closed session was withdrawn and the meeting adjourned.
The inaction by the council appears to put the decision, and the risk, back in the hands of VDOT and the contracting team. Both VDOT and town staffers said the alternative appeared to have merit.