A Maryland state legislator says federal officials and the state's attorney general are reviewing a sole December bid–well above engineer's estimate–to build the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge across the Potomac River. The state Dept. of Transportation now is weighing three options for rebidding the job.

The U.S. Justice Dept., U.S. Dept. of Transportation Inspector General and Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. are looking into the lone bid for the bridge superstructure contract, says Peter Franchot (D), chairman of the House of Delegates' transportation and environment subcommittee. The proposal, submitted by Kiewit Construction Co., Tidewater Construction Corp. and Clark Construction Group Inc., totaled $860 million, or 72% above the State Highway Administration estimate. SHA rejected the bid Jan. 29.

Maryland's Bid Options

One contract: Entire outer bridge, firms also can bid inner bridge
Three contracts: Both bascules; over-water part; over-land part
Two contracts: Both bascules; outer span land and water sections

Source: Maryland Dept. of Transportation

Curran's office has had "conversations" with Maryland DOT Secretary John Porcari and State Highway Administrator Parker Williams, says Jack Cahalan, a Maryland DOT spokesman. Curran spokesman Sean Caine says the Attorney General spoke with Franchot about the bridge, but could not confirm whether or not the office is performing an investigation. Justice Dept. spokeswoman Gina Talamona had no comment and a DOT IG spokesman didn't return a call seeking comment.

Franchot asserts that the bid could be "described politely as inflated." But Jerry Pfeffer, spokesman for the Kiewit-Tidewater-Clark group, says none of the joint venture firms has been contacted by the state AG, Justice or DOT IG. "When we put in a bid, we always give it our best shot," he says."It's ludicrous to suggest that we would conduct ourselves in any way other than absolutely open and above board."

The superstructure is the largest piece of the $2.4-billion project, which includes four big interchange upgrades. Maryland retained an outside panel led by former Utah DOT chief Tom Warne to recommend ways to rebid the job. Williams says the state wants more contractor competition.

Plans still call for two parallel six-lane bascule spans. But the state is deciding among three contract options the panel recommended. They are:

  • A single contract for the outer six-lane span, with proposals also allowed for the inner span.
  • Three contracts; one for the bascule portions; one for the outer bridge's over-water segment, with bids also permitted for the inner span's over-water portion; and one for the outer bridge's over-land section, with bids allowed for the inner span over-land portion.
  • Two contracts; one for both bascule portions and one for the outer bridge's non-bascule sections, with bids also allowed for the inner bridge's over-land and over-water portions.

Porcari says the state will decide "within several weeks, at the outside," which option it will pick. He released a summary of the outside panel's report, which said the Kiewit-Tidewater-Clark bid "was too high." It said the state estimate was "technically solid...based on the tangible factors like the cost of steel, concrete and other materials." But it said the state didn't adequately factor in such "intangibles" as higher-than-estimated bids on other recent bridge projects and the Wilson job's demand for specialized equipment.

Porcari says the panel found that inclusion of a Wilson bridge project labor agreement provision, deleted after the Federal Highway Administration objected, did not have a major effect on the lack of bidders.