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Bid process for bridge to begin next week; MTC hopes to keep span's contract price under $1.5 billion

July 28, 2005 Reposted from the San Francisco Chronicle
   By Kelly St. John

Nine days after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation allowing construction to go forward on the suspension span of the Bay Bridge, Bay Area transportation officials approved a plan Wednesday that will put the project out to bid next week in hope of finding a contractor by next spring.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission voted to give prospective contractors six months to submit bids under a revised process they hope will hold the cost of the span to $1.5 billion.

They said they also believe they will be able to pay for the project without raising bridge tolls above $4.

Officials think they can keep costs down if they can convince at least three companies to submit bids, and have made other revisions -- including allowing contractors to use foreign steel -- to keep costs in check.

"This could be the most exciting day of my 11 years on this commission," said Jon Rubin, chair of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, as it voted unanimously to put the project out to bid. "What we're about to undertake is pretty big."

The move comes a year after the governor halted work on the bridge because the cost of the project had skyrocketed. During the last round of bidding on the signature span last year, just one consortium of companies -- American Bridge, Nippon Steel Bridge and Fluor Corp. -- submitted a bid to build the span, for $1.4 billion.

The American Bridge consortium is expected to bid again, officials said.

Earlier this month, lawmakers and Schwarzenegger agreed to proceed with a unique suspension-style bridge design that the governor had proposed scrapping. Under that agreement, all Bay Area bridge tolls will rise to $4 in 2007, while the state will kick in another $630 million.

The self-anchored suspension span is the final major component of the project to go out to bid. The entire project is now expected to cost $6.3 billion -- $900 million of which are contingency funds -- and could be finished by 2012, some 23 years after a section of the bridge snapped during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

Prospective bidders will have six months to submit a bid, and the contract will be awarded March 31, with work to begin in April.

Caltrans Director Will Kempton said he had initially supported an even shorter time frame but changed his mind in hope that giving companies more time will make the bidding as competitive as possible.

"Is it worth a couple of months to see if we can attract a third or fourth bidder? Yes," he said, citing potential saving of $100 million to $150 million.

Kempton also said removing the requirement from the last contract that the span be built with U.S. steel could save $400 million.

Transportation officials will also pay $3 million to the three companies that submit the lowest bids, to help defray the approximately $6 million in staff costs it takes a company to put together a bid. They hope that will encourage more companies to compete for the contract, thereby lowering the bid prices below their $1.5 billion estimate.

Bay Bridge costs

Cost estimates have skyrocketed since 1996, when Caltrans estimated that retrofitting the eastern span of the Bay Bridge would cost $1.3 billion.

January 1996
Caltrans reports that retrofitting the Bay Bridge will cost $1.3 billion..

September 1996
Caltrans estimates cost of replacing bridge to be $902 million to $1.4 billion..

August 1997
Governor Pete Wilson signs bill authorizing construction of new bridge. Cost estimate$1.3 billion..

May 1998
Caltrans estimates suspension bridge design will cost at least $1.51 billion. .

April 2001
Caltrans revises estimate to $2.6 billion. .

June 2001
Bechtel Infrastructure Corp. reports that previous Caltrans estimates are too low. New cost $2.6-$3.04 billion..

July 2003
Caltrans revises cost to $2.9 billion. .

July 2004
Caltrans report states estimated cost now $5.1 billion. .

December 2004
California’s independent auditor criticizes Caltrans and estimates the new costto be $5.9 billion..

March 2005
Caltrans revises estimate to $6.2 billion..

June 2005
Estimate revised to $6.3 billion. .Source: Chronicle research by Johnny Miller.

E-mail Kelly St. John at [email protected].

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