The Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is now exploring whether a Texas-based construction company is qualified to build and operate a rail transload facility in Des Moines, after a preferred bidder pulled out of the project in February.

The MPO Executive Committee today authorized the agency’s staff to move forward with pursuing its due diligence process on the Texas company, Alliance Construction Specialties. MPO Executive Director Todd Ashby said Alliance has indicated it is ready to move forward immediately to purchase the land and prepare for construction.

The long-delayed project had received approval for an $11.2 million BUILD grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation in December. It had appeared on track to move forward with a Denver-based transload operator, OmniTRAX Inc., which is the second-largest U.S. operator of short-line railroads.

However, on Feb. 14, OmniTRAX notified the MPO that it was withdrawing from the project, primarily because it could not find a business partner willing to be the anchor tenant for the project. The company also expressed concerns about groundwork that needed to be completed on the site. Alliance Construction subsequently approached the MPO about the project.

Although Alliance does not have experience in building a transload facility, it is working with an industry expert who has 25 years of experience with such facilities, Ashby said.

The project had gone back to the bidding process last fall, after the executive committee voted in September to terminate its contract with Steve Braithwaite, the owner of the Nebraska company that had been selected to operate the facility. Braithwaite, who had won the contract in 2016, in August was indicted by a federal grand jury for alleged safety violations leading to a fatal rail car explosion involving one of his companies.

The planned facility adjacent to Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway at 200 S.E. 15th St. would provide access to three major railroads — BNSF Railway Co., Norfolk Southern Railway and Union Pacific Railway — as well as the regional Iowa Interstate Railroad.

Following OmniTRAX's notification, the MPO contacted other companies that had not responded to the request for proposals to determine whether they may be interested now that there’s an $11.2 million federal grant on the table, but so far it has not received any firm responses.

According to Alliance Construction’s website, the privately held company has more than 30 years of experience and has built industrial facilities, distribution centers, commercial properties, financial institutions, retail shops, and educational and medical facilities.