This Year's Top Starts ranking clearly illustrates two points: California took full advantage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and other federal funds to launch many projects, and large health-care projects, which accounted for six of last year’s top 10 projects, continue to make a mark, thanks to the state’s upcoming deadline for seismic upgrades to hospitals and medical facilities. Additionally, while construction markets continue to be tough, this year’s top 25 starts total more than $8 billion in construction value, compared with $7.5 billion for 2009’s top 39.

Super Lab UCSF’s new building will be the world’s largest neuroscience complex.
Image Courtesy Of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Super Lab UCSF’s new building will be the world’s largest neuroscience complex.

Transportation Leads the Way

Heading this year’s list are five major transportation projects, including four that used federal funds to get a jump start:

• While the Los Angeles International Airport Bradley West Terminal expansion, totaling $1.5 billion, received no federal funds, a side project in the LAX Master Plan construction program—the Los Angeles Fire Dept. aircraft rescue station—drew on ARRA aid for $10.8 million of its $13.5-million budget.

• The second-largest project, the $1.3-billion, 1.7-mile San Francisco Central Subway, which will extend the Third Street light rail line from Fourth and King streets to Chinatown, received $942 million in funding from the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts program.

• Third on the list is the $1-billion Interstate 405 Sepulveda Pass widening project in Los Angeles, which received $200 million in ARRA funding.

• The fourth-ranked project, the ambitious $995-milion Transbay Transit Center in San Francisco, received $400 million in ARRA funds.

• The $391-million Caldecott Tunnel fourth bore project in Contra Costa County secured nearly $180 million in ARRA aid.

“The stimulus was a huge benefit to the state’s infrastructure,” says Andy Ball, president of Webcor Builders, San Mateo, which is constructing the Transbay Transit Center in a joint venture with Obayashi Corp. “The funds, especially [for] the transit center, were essential to keep construction going,” he says.

Ball adds that because of major projects that began last year and others breaking ground this year, 2011 is looking much more positive for Webcor. He says that with the market downturn, many construction and engineering companies had to become more efficient and “do more with less and embrace technology.” Because of the exceptionally low bidding that has been going on since 2007, efficiency and downsizing are the only options, he says. “But I think the desperation has evaporated and things should level out this year,” Ball adds.

Getting some of these huge, complex projects under way can take years of effort. Ball notes that last year’s second-largest project start, the San Francisco General Hospital replacement, took six years to break ground and Webcor waited two years after signing its contract to get on the site.

There also was a long wait for this year’s No. 1 Top Start, the LAX terminal expansion. Roger Johnson, deputy executive director for the Los Angeles World Airports’ LAX development program, says the LAX Master Plan was stalled before the 2005 election of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Johnson says Villaraigosa worked with opponents and environmental groups that had filed lawsuits. In 2006 the parties reached a settlement, and construction finally began after more than 10 years of planning.

Since the Tom Bradley International Terminal opened in 1984, security enhancements and larger aircraft have put new demands on the facility. “The goal of Bradley West is to accommodate some of the new, huge double-deck jets, like the Airbus 380,” says Johnson.

In order to meet a challenging completion date of December 2012, Johnson and his construction management-at-risk team, including the Walsh/Austin Joint Venture and Fentress Architects, are juggling phasing and sequencing efforts around LAX’s busy schedule of 1,400 daily landings and takeoffs.

Health-care projects continue to be a major factor in the state’s construction industry, scoring five of the 25 Top Starts for 2009. The catalyst is a set of regulations stemming from California Senate Bill 1953, which was approved after the 1994 Northridge earthquake. The measure requires seismic upgrades or replacements of hospitals and other medical facilities. Hospital owners are scrambling to meet the first deadlines, which come into play in 2013.

Ray Zunino, vice president with Hunt Construction Group, Scottsdale, Ariz., which is rebuilding Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City (number 16 on this year’s list), says that because of the legislation, Hunt and other contractors are getting much more health-care work in California than in other states. Senate Bill 1953 “is definitely driving the health-care construction in California,” Zunino says. “There is zero work in residential, hospitality, office and any developer-driven work.”

Top Starts In California
Rank 2010 Project/ Location Project Cost Start Date/
End Date
Owner/ Prime Contractor
1 LAX Bradley West International
Terminal Expansion Los Angeles
$1.5 billion Feb. 2010
Dec. 2012
Los Angeles World Airports JV: Walsh/Austin
2 Central Subway San Francisco $1.3 billion Jan. 2010
Nov. 2017
San Francisco Municipal Transportation Auth. JV: AECOM/EPC Consultants
3 I-405 Sepulveda Pass
Widening Los Angeles
$1 billion July 2010
L.A. County Metro. Trans. Auth. and Caltrans Kiewit Infrastructure West Co.
4 Transbay Transit Center
San Francisco
$995 million Aug. 2010
Aug. 2017
Transbay Joint Powers Authority JV: Webcor/Obayashi
5 Caldecott Tunnel
Fourth Bore Oakland
$391 million Jan. 2010 2013 Caltrans Tutor-Saliba
6 Martin Luther King
Medical Center Los Angeles
$360 million June 2010 2013 L.A. County Dept. of Public Works MTM Construction, Hensel Phelps
7 UC Berkeley Memorial Stadium
Seismic Upgrade Berkeley
$321 million Dec. 2010 Sept. 2012 UC Berkeley Webcor Builders
8 Torrance Memorial Medica
l Center Torrance
$300 million Feb. 2010 Nov. 2014 Torrance Memorial Medical Center McCarthy Building Cos.
9 San Diego International Airport
Terminal 2 Improvements San Diego
$250 million March 2010 March 2013 San Diego County Regional Airport Authority JV: Kiewit/Sundt
9 Sutter Women’s and Children’s
Hospital Sacramento
$250 million Nov. 2010 Dec. 2012 Sutter Health The Boldt Co.
11 UCSF Neurosciences Laboratory
and Research Bldg. San Francisco
$163 million May 2010 April 2012 Edgemoor/McCarthy Cook Partners LLP Clark Construction
12 Interstate 5 HOV Between SR-118
and SR-170 Los Angeles
$140 million Sept. 2010 2015 Caltrans/LACMTA Flatiron
12 San Vicente Dam
Raise Lakeside
$140 million April 2010 Jan. 2013 San Diego County Water Authority JV: Shimmick/Obayashi
14 The Exploratorium Replacement
Project San Francisco
$139.5 million Nov. 2010 Nov. 2012 The Exploratorium Nibbi Bros. General Contractors
15 Presbyterian Intercommunity
Hospital Plaza Tower Whittier
$125 million Feb. 2010 April 2014 Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital Millie and Severson Inc.
16 Sequoia Hospital Expansion
and Remodeling Redwood City
$112.4 million June 2010 Dec. 2012 Catholic Healthcare West Hunt Construction Group
17 Carlsbad Unified High School
District High School Carlsbad
$104 million Oct. 2010 Feb. 2013 Carlsbad Unified High School District Barnhart Balfour Beatty Construction
17 City College of San Francisco Chinatown/
North Beach Campus San Francisco
$104 million Feb. 2010 May 2012 San Francisco Community College District Bovis Lend Lease
19 NOAA La Jolla Laboratory
Replacement La Jolla
$102 million July 2010 Dec. 2011 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Admin. Rudolph and Sletten
20 Palm Springs Unified School
District High School Rancho Mirage
$99.3 million June 2010 March 2013 Palm Springs Unified School District McCarthy Building Cos.
21 Carlsbad High School Renovation
Phase Three Carlsbad
$86 million June 2010 Oct. 2011 Carlsbad Unified High School District McCarthy Building Cos.
22 Cal Poly University Center for
Science San Luis Obispo
$85.5 million Oct. 2010 May 2013 Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo Gilbane Building Co.
23 Sunol Valley Water Treatment
Plant Sunol
$83.1 million June 2010 June 2013 San Francisco Public Utilities Commission Shimmick Construction
24 Metro Orange Line Extension
$82.5 million March 2010 March 2012 L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Auth. Brutoco Engineering & Construction
25 UCLA Pauley Pavilion Renovation
and Expansion Los Angeles
$80.3 million March 2010 July 2012 University of California, Los Angeles PCL Construction Services
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