Officials in charge of a $15-billion expansion program at O’Hare International Airport have thrown out all bids for building an 8,000-ft-long runway, the airport’s first in 35 years.

Plote Construction Inc., Kiewit Western Co. and Walsh Construction Co., came in over the city engineer’s estimate, but not “wildly over,” according to Michael Boland, the program's first deputy director. He says Chicago-based Walsh’s low bid, at $58.9 million, was not more than 10% over estimate. Omaha-based Kiewit bid $61.7 million and Elgin, Ill.-based Plote bid $63.7 million.

O’Hare officials believe the project’s unusual schedule was a major factor but still “would like see some greater interest,” among contractors for competition, says Rosemarie S. Andolino, the O’Hare program's executive director.

The runway, to replace an existing one, was slated to be built in two phases, with 13% completion by this fall and the balance by early 2008. “There is a lot of uncertainty in terms of pricing that far into the future,” says Bill Madden, chief estimator for Plote.

O’Hare officials say they will re-bid the project next year with a revised schedule. “We're just going to do all the work in 2008 now instead of doing 1,000 feet this year,” Boland says.

City officials hope the strategy will bring in lower prices, but contractors are skeptical that it will work. O’Hare requirements for tight security and affirmative action already are costly while prices for concrete and asphalt are on the rise. “When they bid it again a year from now, who’s to say what the prices will be?” Madden says.

Andolino expects to award more than $700 million in contracts by the end of the summer. Kiewit already holds a $125.9-million site preparation contract for the new runway. So far, it has moved more than 198,000 cu yd of earth.