Maryland's State Highway Administration has decided to stretch out its schedule by several months for bidding the last of its three planned contracts for the superstructure of the new Woodrow Wilson bridge across the Potomac River.

Pedestals for foundation of new outer loop bridge's drawspan. Existing bridge is in background. (Maryland State Highway Administration)

The timetable for the first contract, covering the bascule portions of each of the project's two parallel, six-lane spans, isn't affected. That contract was advertised on July 2; bid opening remains set for Nov. 7.

In June, State Highway Administrator Parker Williams said the agency would advertise the other two contracts in October, with bid openings in mid-February, 2003. But at a July 31 pre-bid meeting, contractors were told the state now would advertise in October only the segment stretching from the Virginia side of the river to the draw spans, says Valerie Burnette Edgar, a spokeswoman for SHA. The Virginia portion is mostly over land. Bid opening still would be in February, Edgar says.

But the agency now says it will defer advertising the largely over-water portion from the Maryland shore until January 2003, Edgar says. Bids would be due in May.

That change could mean about a three-month delay for the third contract, but Edgar says contractors "very well maybe able to make that [time] up later" as work proceeds.

With the shift in bid timing, state highway officials are seeking to "make it as easy as possible for competitive bidding," she says.

Maryland originally advertised the superstructure as a single contract, but its officials were shocked when the only bid they received totaled nearly $860 million, or more than 70% above the high end of their $450-500 million estimated range. SHA rejected the lone bid--from a team of Kiewit Construction Co., Tidewater Construction Corp., and Clark Construction Group Inc.—and then split the job into three contracts, hoping for more bidders and better prices.

State officials originally said the first bridge would open in late 2004 or early 2005. But mostly because of last December's bid result, "Now we're saying late 2005...spring 2006 at the latest," says Edgar.

The project's official cost estimate is $2.4 billion, which includes the new bridge as well as major improvements to four Capital Beltway interchanges, two each in Maryland and Virginia.