Signature Design. Self-anchored suspension bridge design may be too costly to build. (Photo courtesy of

Over the next few months, California faces a fateful choice in rebuilding the massive San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Officials on Sept. 30 rejected the sole $1.4-billion bid for the project’s signature component because it came in nearly double the state’s estimate and now must decide whether to rebid the contract or scrap design of the bridge’s complex centerpiece, a self-anchored suspension span (SAS). It has contributed to a total cost estimate of $5.1 billion, nearly double 2001 figures. Industry sources question the veracity of the state’s construction estimate and worry that the bridge’s more than decade-long procurement process could set a precedent for political meddling and bad procurement.


Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) announced the long-awaited decision to pass on the $1.4-billion bid submitted last spring by a joint venture of American Bridge Co., Coraopolis, Pa.; Japan’s Nippon Steel Bridge; and Fluor Enterprises, Aliso Viejo, Calif. The bid came in at twice the state’s estimate of $780 million. The rejection "was something of a surprise," says Robert Oakes, spokesman for Sen. Tom Torlakson (D), chairman of the state senate’s transportation committee.

When the legislature adjourned Sept. 30 without approving a financial plan to cover the financing gap, state officials felt compelled to decline the bid because "we don’t have enough information" to meet key goals–delivering a seismically safe bridge for best value by the 2011-2012 target date, says Sunne Wright McPeak, California secretary of business, transportation and housing. The new bridge would replace the existing East Span that extends from the Oakland side of the bay to Yerba Buena Island.

Rejection of the bid marks an apparent shift in direction from just two months ago when the state was leaning toward accepting the American Bridge team’s bid and the legislature was focused on finding a way to pay for the increases (ENR 8/30-9/6 p. 14).

In August, a California Dept. of Transportation report predicted that rebidding "may result in a one-year schedule delay and significant escalation costs." Only days before the announcement, Caltrans sources suggested that the agency would likely ask the American Bridge team for an extension. In a report submitted last month to a regional agency that manages Bay Area transportation, locally based Bechtel Group Inc., also recommended taking the bid. It predicted that not doing so would add up to four years and $310 million to the bridge’s cost. "We can’t afford to start from scratch," said Rod McMillan, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s manager of bridge and highway operations.

More Delay. Officials hope Bay Bridge reconstruction will still be able to beat the next quake.

But Schwarzenegger unveiled a study by a blue-ribbon "independent review" team headed by Thomas R. Warne, former head of the Utah Dept. of Transportation that opted for a new approach. "Our recommendation is to develop a rebid document that would enhance the one on the street, or redesign the bridge, possibly as a cable-stayed span," he says.

The SAS design by San Francisco-based T.Y. Lin International "is a very complex bridge," says Warne. "The components are very difficult to make and there’s a lot of risk." While the design’s dramatic aesthetics won out in a very lengthy and politically charged competition in the late 1990s, Warne says there are only 20 SAS bridges in the world, "and there is little experience in building it." Officials of T.Y. Lin did not return calls for comment, but one source says, "this has to be rather embarrassing for them."

For a possible cable-stayed alternative, the schedule impact of additional environmental review and permit modification is the variable that "really needs to be better understood," McPeak says. While Warne estimates the new design could...