Maryland toll agency hits legal snag

A public-private partnership to develop two travel plazas along a major interstate in Maryland has been delayed as a public board and civil judge hold off on awarding the contract to Spain’s Areas.

The Maryland Transportation Authority’s (MDTA) decision to engage the US arm of Spanish firm Areas for a highway travel centre refurbishment – a decision that leaves local developer HMSHost in the cold – hit another snag recently. 

The Maryland Board of Public Works, a trio of top state officials, opted to delay its vote to approve the awarding of a public-private partnership (PPP) contract to Areas to redevelop a pair of travel plazas, dubbed the Maryland House and the Chesapeake House, along Interstate 95.

The approval, without which the PPP cannot advance, was pushed back amid pending litigation against the state agency filed by HMSHost, the previous operator of the rest areas.

Meanwhile, on top of this delay, Eric Johnson of the Circuit Court for the Montgomery Court Civil System favoured the plaintiff, HMSHost, and issued a temporary restraining order against MDTA.

Judge Johnson cited a “violation of the Maryland Public Information Act” in the way the PPP contract was procured. As a result of the ruling, the partnership cannot be formalised before the date of the next hearing, which is scheduled for early March.

For its part and as its next step in the litigation process, the MDTA intends on filing a motion in advance of the next hearing, according to a spokesman in the Maryland Attorney General’s office.

On February 17, Bethesda-based HMSHost filed a civil lawsuit against MDTA for violating the Maryland Public Information Act in its negotiations throughout the PPP request for proposals (RFP) process.

In early February, an HMSHost spokesperson told Infrastructure Investor:

“HMSHost was surprised that we were not offered an opportunity to submit a best and final offer (BAFO), since the RFP contemplated that, and since it was clear that the RFP allowed BAFOs to modify original proposals. At this point, we believe all proposers should be able to submit a BAFO, or, the process should be thrown out and started over [again].”