DIFFERENT APPROACH Breaking up bridge into segments brought competition.

A joint venture of Granite Construction Inc., Watsonville, Calif., and Corman Construction, Annapolis Junction, Md., was the apparent low bidder on the second of three major contracts to build a new Woodrow Wilson bridge across the Potomac River. The team's $115.5-million bid was 28% below the Maryland State Highway Administration engineers' estimate of $160 million.

"It's a good day," said SHA project director Robert Douglass after the bids were opened Feb. 13. The bridge is the cornerstone of the $2.56-billion project, which also includes major interchange upgrades on both sides of the Potomac.

The upbeat mood was different from December 2001. SHA originally had packaged the entire Wilson bridge superstructure as a single contract, but was stunned when it got just one bid, which at $860 million was more than 70% above its estimate. The agency rejected that proposal and adopted an alternate plan, which centered on splitting the job into three contracts.

The contract being bid on Feb. 13, which covers the 2,200-ft-long segment from the Virginia bank of the Potomac to the bascule section, drew seven proposals. All were under the estimate, vindicating state officials' revised contracting approach. "Everything we did was for competition," says Douglass. The contract also was bid without the proposed union-only project labor agreement.

One design change from the original plan was to substitute plate girders for box girders. Douglass explains that many more firms can fabricate plate girders than box girders. The Feb. 13 contract includes seven of the bridge's 18 spans, with six constructed on land.

The first contract was awarded Jan. 31 to American Bridge Co., Coraopolis, Pa., and Edward Kraemer & Sons Inc., Plain, Wis. Their $189.5-million proposal was 11% above the state's estimate. Bid opening is scheduled on May 1 for the third Wilson bridge contract, the segment from the Maryland shore to the draw span. At 3,300 ft, it is the longest and carries an engineers' estimate of $230 million to $260 million.

The other six bidders for the Virginia segment were: Archer Western Construction, Richmond, Va.--$117.1 million; Trumbull Corp., West Mifflin, Pa.--$119.1 million; Cianbro Corp., Pittsfield, Maine/Weeks Marine Inc., Cranford, N.J.--$129.4 million; Tidewater Skanska Inc., Virginia Beach/Lane Construction Corp., Meriden, Conn.--$130.9 million; Fru-Con Construction Corp., Ballwin, Mo.--$136 million; Facchina Construction Co., La Plata, Md --$158 million.

The project calls for two parallel, six-lane bridges, with the outer bridge to open in late 2005 or early 2006. The inner bridge will open two years after that.