EXPENSIVE Single-suspension span now faces uncertainties in construction schedule. (Photo courtesy of newbaybridge.org)

California transportation officials are scrambling for answers after the twice-postponed bid opening for the innovative suspension span of the $2.6-billion San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge attracted just one bid that came in double the $740-million estimate. Record steel prices are a key factor in the huge differential, but the span’s unique design, tough schedule and strict specifications ratcheted up bidding contingencies, sources say. Others point to likely flaws in developing and communicating the engineer’s estimate.

The sole bid was offered May 26 by a joint venture of American Bridge Co., Coraopolis, Pa.; Nippon Steel Bridge, Tokyo; and Fluor Enterprises, Aliso Viejo, Calif. The team’s $1.4-billion bid represents use of foreign-supplied steel. Its proposal also includes a $1.8-billion bid using domestic steel. “Buy American” provisions were waived because the price reflecting foreign steel is more than 25% lower than the domestic price, says Dan McElhinney, deputy district director for the California Dept. of Transportation in Oakland.

“We hope they award it,” says Michael Cegelis, senior vice president of American Bridge, the team’s lead firm. “It represents a tremendous amount of effort in the last 16 months, and it’s by far the most we’ve ever spent on a bid.” Cagelis would not elaborate, but sources say that cost may be as high as $5 million.


Caltrans pushed back the initial bid date in October to allow teams to include both foreign and domestic steel in bids (ENR 11/3/03 p. 10). The bid date had already been postponed once, from October 2003 to January. Caltrans also extended the construction schedule by 15 months and modified the price formula, permitting teams to bid on time as well as labor and materials. The 1,860-ft-long span’s innovative design, by San Francisco-based T.Y. Lin International in joint venture with Moffatt & Nichol, Long Beach, Calif., will have a single-tower, self-anchored span. Among other unusual features, design calls for parallel 25-m-wide, hollow orthrotropic steel boxes.

Caltrans expected bids from two joint ventures and possibly a third, McElhinney says. “I’m surprised we got a single bid,” adds Randy Rentschler, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, an Oakland regional agency and one of the project’s funders. “I do not know why the contractors were on the sidelines on this project.”

Sources close to the bidding say a joint venture of Peter Kiewit Sons’ Inc., Omaha, and Skanska Inc., Whitestone, N.Y., was another contender as late as one month before the bid opening, but it did not ultimately bid. “We were interested,” says Bruce Grewcock, Peter Kiewit chief operating officer. “But we don’t comment on why we bid or don’t bid a job.” Kiewit itself was the sole bidder for an earlier bridge foundation contract last year, which came in 63% over estimate (ENR 11/3/03 p. 10). The firm won the job in a rebid, with a significantly lower figure.

Bidding executives point to the gyrating steel market for a structure whose unique design and construction specs could require as much as 100 million lb of permanent steel and another 40 million lb of temporary steel falsework, says Cagelis. “Individual pieces get very large,” he notes. “You have to do it perfect the first time.”

The 40 to 60% increase in steel prices nationally in the first quarter of 2004 became an issue only after bids had already been postponed, McElhinney says. “It’s really the climb since December that is definitely a factor in this bid,” he says. Caltrans...