Slowly, almost imperceptively, two massive yellow hoists built specially for
Bay Bridge work pulled a 500-ton section of bridge off a barge. By the end
of a day's work, contractor Kiewit/Manson/FCI Joint Venture, or KFM, had
raised the first piece of road deck into place.
About 80 observers in white hard hats gathered on a nearby jetty to witness
history. Monday's lift was the first of
452. Each 26-foot-long section of deck must make the day-long barge journey
down the San Joaquin River from a Stockton construction yard.
When it gets to the Bay Bridge construction site, giant hoists called SLED's
(Self-Launching Erection Devices) inch the massive V-shaped concrete pieces
of bridge toward the top of a concrete column, suspending the whole thing by
four bolts as thick as a man's arm. It's painstakingly detailed work. The
awaiting structure, called a pier table, is purposely asymmetric, so when a
500-750 ton section of roadway is attached, it doesn't topple.
At first, the only sign of movement is the tightening of thick steel cables.
Then the waterline on the barge emerges as the weight is removed. By the
time the deck is airborne, the Portland-based barge has risen eight feet out
of the water on one end and has sunken three feet on the other.
Monday's lift got off to a delicate start. Workers fussed over the hoists
for an hour, making sure everything was properly balanced, after level
sensors gave some questionable readings.
Contractors went about their tasks like it was just another day at the
office on a project that is a study in superlatives: biggest project in
Caltrans history, biggest marine crane on the West Coast, biggest segmental
bridge ever built.
And then there's the cost. Monday's work was part of a record-setting $1.05
billion skyway, one of several contracts to build a replacement eastern span
of the Bay Bridge.
In May, when Caltrans opened a lone bid to build a unique tower closer to
Yerba Buena Island, the result was shocking. Instead of $740 million, as
Caltrans has estimated, the joint venture of American Bridge Co., Nippon
Steel and Fluor Corp. pegged the price at $1.4 billion using foreign steel
or $1.8 billion using domestic steel.
With only $150 million in reserve, the result instantly confirmed what had
been feared for months: Caltrans would have to find more money and the only
guaranteed source was sending Bay Area tolls to $4.
On Friday, Caltrans asked the American Bridge team for two more months to
review bids, with options to accept the doubled cost or gamble on rebidding
the work, which could come in even higher. Caltrans' deadline to decide is
Friday, unless the contractor approves an extension.
"This allows time to evaluate the benefits of the May bid compared with
escalating cost of material," Caltrans spokesman David Anderson said. "We
are reviewing our funding needs to complete the tower."
Steel prices have doubled in the last six months. On Monday, American Bridge
executive Bob Luffy said he was reviewing the request and asking dozens of
subcontractors if they can afford to hold their prices steady.
"Contrary to some opinions, this is not a fat contract. We expected
competition and priced it pretty thin," Luffy said.
But contractors said Caltrans has verbally affirmed that the bids look
clean. Caltrans needs the time to find the money to pay for the work.
"Caltrans cannot award the contract because they can't afford it," said
Randy Rentschler, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
Caltrans is required by law to report to the Legislature how much money it
needs to finish the work and how the state agency plans to find it. Anderson
said Caltrans is preparing that report.
Contact Sean Holstege at [email protected].