Only one team bid on June 27 for the third phase of the Huey P. Long Bridge widening project, and the bid was 50% over the engineer's estimate. But the Louisiana Dept. of Transportation and Development may have little choice than to proceed with the contract.
The third phase originally was estimated at $299 million but went through three postponements and at least one estimate increase. The lone bid of $489.1 million was submitted by the joint venture of Massman Construction Co., Kansas City, Mo.; Traylor Bros. Inc., Evansville, Ind.; and IHI Inc., New York City. The A+B bid includes $452.6 million for the items portion and 1,460 days at $25,000 per day for the B portion, says John Oglesby, contract services engineer for DOTD.
Widening the bridge is a challenging project that many firms won't tackle.
"Because this is a public bid process, we can't negotiate with the contractor," Oglesby says. "It's either take it or leave it." If a bid is more than 5% over or 15% under estimates, DOTD requires the project manager to make a recommendation to award or reject. An engineering committee has 45 days to review the bid. At that time, the review committee will make a presentation to Bill Temple, DOTD's chief engineer.
The rising price of steel, complexity of the job, abundance of work in the region and continuing laments of a dwindling workforce all contributed to the lack of competition on the project, says Juan Murillo, construction project manager for Louisiana TIMED Managers. LTM, a joint venture of Parsons Brinckerhoff, New York City; The LPA Group, Columbia, S.C.; and GEC, Baton Rouge; provides program management services for the Huey P. Long widening and 15 other projects being financed through the $4.7-billion Transportation Infrastructure Model for Economic Development (TIMED) Program.
"As you know, the cost of bridge materials, mainly structural steel, continues to be on the rise," Murillo says. "Structural steel is about 89% of the overall cost of the project. Half of that cost is fabrication and half is erection."
The abundance of work nationwide, particularly in the Gulf Coast region, also contributed to the limited number of bidders. "Right now, in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas- particularly since the hurricanes-anyone who wants to work has more than they can do, and it is really hurting us price-wise," Oglesby says. "It has decreased our competition, so we have fewer bidders and some work gets pushed back. It's an expensive time and place to do business."
The project's complexity-widening a steel truss superstructure on an existing bridge with both vehicular and rail traffic-is daunting. "I don't think you could come up with a list of more than 10 qualified contractors who can do this job," Murillo says. "First of all, there aren't that many truss bridges in the world, and it's a complex job."
Not many companies have the bonding capacity to tackle a job of this size, Murillo says. "It used to be that you had a lot of joint ventures because the participating contractors had different areas of expertise, but now it's more about risk," Oglesby adds. "Companies are partnering to share the bonding capacity."
The DOTD review panel has several options, Oglesby says. Not going forward with the project is really not an option, considering that LADOTD already invested more than $100 million in Phases I and II. "The second option is to re-scope the project, which isn't easy to do on a bridge project," Oglesby says. "Because it's such an important job, we may decide to rearrange the department's budget and perhaps go forward with the project." Other options include re-bidding the project at a later date, in hopes of reduced steel prices or decreased labor demand as other jobs near completion.
The crowd in the auditorium during the bid meeting paled in comparison to the numbers who attended the Feb. 8 mandatory pre-bid meeting. At that meeting, at least three contractors asked for another postponement. Complaints at that time involved the technical challenges of the complicated erection scheme and associated liability, as well as concern about attracting enough skilled labor. At that time, the bid closing was set for May 30, but LADOTD and LTM granted another extension to satisfy a would-be bidder who ultimately didn't participate, Murillo says.
"Several interesting combinations" appear on the proposal distribution list, which lists six contractors in addition to the bidding joint-venture partners, Murillo says. "We didn't know the makeup of the joint venture today. Everybody was courting each other and [also] they were all pursuing it on their own."
The list included Boh Bros. Construction Co., LLC, New Orleans, and Kiewit Southern Co., Peachtree City, Ga., Oglesby says. Also on the proposal distribution list was Bilfinger Berger Civil Inc., Manheim, Germany; Ceres Environmental Services Inc., Bonifay, Fla.; Texas Bridge Partners, L.P. , Humble, Tex.; and American Bridge Co., Coraopolis, Pa.
Massman, which is currently performing the $83.1 million Phase I contract on the project to widen the five bridge piers, declined to comment. Calls placed to the other joint-venture partners and potential bidders were not returned.
Originally 2012, the final completion date has been suspect since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Murillo says. Completion now is tentatively set for 2013, but that date won't be determined until the disposition of the Phase III bid review, says Dana Newsome, TIMED spokesperson. Massman is on schedule to complete Phase I by December 2008 or January 2009. Boh Bros. will complete the $12.1 million Phase II contract for railroad modifications by the end of 2007.