Worried that contractors will yet again drag their heels in submitting bids for an elegant but controversial self-anchored suspension span, the California Dept. of Transportation officials on Jan. 19 announced that the bid opening for the span will be delayed from Feb. 1 to March 22. The Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee (TBPOC) of Caltrans says it will offer $5 million to the top three bidders, rather than $3 million.

Bay Bridge Self-Anchored Supsension Tower Rendering.(Photo courtesy of Caltrans)

The estimated $1.45-billion suspension span (SAS) is the centerpiece of the $6.3-billion Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge, which is running $3.7-billion over budget. An American Bridge Co.-led joint venture was the sole bidder for the SAS two years ago with a $1.45 billion price tag using foreign steel. The bid came in twice as high as Caltran's estimates at that time. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) called for scrapping the T.Y. Lin International design in favor of extending the existing causeway. After almost a year of negotiations with the governor and state Legislature, the SAS design got the green light again last August--with motorists to pay an extra dollar in bridge tolls. The delay added more than $1 million to the overall project.

Since the contract was re-advertised in August with a $1.4 billion new estimate, Caltrans has held three contractor outreach meetings. More than 75 contractors, including Omaha, Neb.-based Kiewit Pacific Co. and Pittsburgh, Pa.-based American Bridge Co. attended an outreach meeting in November.

"This is like a big game of poker," says Randy Rentschler, director of Legislation and Public Affairs for Oakland, Calif.-based Metropolitan Transportation Commission, a member of the oversight committee along with the California Transportation Commission and Caltrans.

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  • If the bids come in over the $1.4 billion estimate, TBPIC has what Rentschler calls a "large contingency fund" and the authority under Assembly Bill 144 to increase toll fees to pay for overages. "We are not going back to the legislature," Rentschler says. "We want to award this contract for the best price possible."

    The pushed-back bid date to March will cut the bid review process from 60 days to 30 days. Caltrans wants to award the contract April 21 for a delay of only 20 days. TBPOC, however, also announced that it would add 180 days to the timeline so that the completion date will still stretch to 2013. TBPOC added the days back in to accommodate for the time bidders have requested in order to produce and approve engineering drawings, create full- scale models and to address steel market concerns, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

    A six-month, $50,000 per day incentive clause is being added to the contract to reward and encourage the contractor to save time, says Bart Ney, Caltrans spokesman. The Buy America requirement on steel suppliers was dropped for this round of bidding, a move Caltrans estimates could save $400 million. That will be 24 years after the 7.1 magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake that toppled a section of the bridge and prompted concern about its status as a "lifeline" in case of future quakes. The bridge carries 270,000 vehicles a day.

    In the meantime, the KFM joint venture led by Kiewit Pacific Co. has been given an $81-million change order and is now authorized to restart work on the $1.5-billion marine foundations-- a project that was suspended for six months in 2005 while the legislature debated whether to scrap the SAS design.