The contract, announced by Bechtel in a statement, is the first land transportation subcontract Bechtel has was awarded under the emergency infrastructure repair and rehabilitation contract it was granted April 17 by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). That $680-million agreement calls for the repair, rehabilitation or reconstruction of vital elements of Iraq's infrastructure.

DAMAGED Al Mat Highway Bridge near Ar Rutbah, western Iraq. (Photo by Terry Taylor, Bechtel)

Bechtel did not disclose the dollar value of the bridge bypass contract, which was awarded to Al-Bunnia Trading Company, a 93-year-old construction firm. Al-Bunnia will work with Bechtel supervisors to provide field engineering services and construct a bypass about 1.5 long on Highway 10 around the war-damaged Al Mat Bridge. The bridge is about 300 km west of Baghdad and 180 km from the Jordanian border.

"Today's contract signing with Al-Bunnia is the first of many agreements we will have with Iraqi firms," predicts Cliff Mumm, program director for Bechtel's project team. "As we've said from the day we signed our contract with USAID, we're committed to developing a work program that maximizes use of Iraqi contractors and workers. This is a big, first step for all of us."

Loay Ibrahim Al-Saied, an engineer and senior official of Al-Bunnia, says work is scheduled to begin June 3. He estimates that about 50 company engineers and field workers will be involved in the project. "We are so happy," Al Saied said, "not just for the contract, but to work again in our country with our people and our equipment to help rebuild our country."

The four-lane Al Mat Bridge was hit in an aerial strike during the recentwar, leaving just one lane in place. An emergency assessment by Bechtel engineers determined the remaining structure was in danger of collapsing which prompted the decision to construct an emergency bypass to keep the key highway link open. Since the war, over 3,000 trucks daily travel on Highway 10, bringing food, humanitarian aid, and other goods to Baghdad from Jordan.

Bechtel engineers estimate the bypass will take two to three weeks to complete. Once done and open, the original Al Mat Bridge will be reconstructed under a separate contract, not yet awarded. The work is expected to take three to six months.

"This first subcontract should send a strong signal to Iraqi builders that there is much work out there and we need their help to get it done," Mumm says. "This is a milestone for us and an important first step in our land transportation work. We hope word of this signing will spread quickly, but to accelerate our introduction to Iraqi builders, we are planning to hold our next contractors' conference very soon in Baghdad."

echtel signed its first subcontract May 30 with an Iraqi company under its prime contract supporting reconstruction in Iraq. It hired a Baghdad-based construction firm to construct a bypass around a war-damaged bridge in the western part of the country.