...save the state at least $500 million, it also will entail new environmental reviews that could take 18 months, with another six months to bid and award a contract.
Officials also will have to consider whether, and how, a new span design will fit with the bridges existing $294-million foundations that are more than 50% complete and how to reduce the cost of the single-tower design. In addition, says McPeak, "we need to get seismic performance analysis on cable-stayed bridge alternatives."
Predictably, the long-awaited decision to reject the bid was a blow to the bidding team. "In a case like this, its pretty painful," says Bob Luffy, CEO of American Bridge. "Things like this happen all the time, but this one was big." Sources say the firm invested as much as 30,000 hours in its bid.
Luffy and other officials close to the procurement say that Caltrans officials repeatedly were questioned on the states construction estimate and the availability of funding to cover escalating costs, which include skyrocketing steel prices. "Some 750 inquiries were generated on this," says Luffy. "We probably generated two-thirds of them. We did not bid it fat." Adds another official close to the procurement: "They had to realize [the project] would be north of $1 billion but they held onto the $780-million budget."
Also in question is the role of Peter Kiewit Sons Inc. in the bidding process. Sources speculate that the firm was set to bid last spring, but did not do so. "We believed it was competing against us until after our bid was submitted," says one official on the American Bridge team. "This way, they can stand back and look at our price first."
Local news reports also hint of Kiewits use of lobbyists to possibly influence the decision to rebid. A Kiewit spokesman confirms that "from time to time, we do hire advisors to help us understand the local political situation," but he declines to elaborate on services rendered or past strategy. At a meeting with state officials, Kiewit indicated it would be interested in bidding the project, along with its joint-venture partner, Carteret, N.J.-based Koch Skanska.
The next step awaits return of the state legislature in January. Caltrans will determine what changes might make the existing design more biddable, such as changes in steel fabrication, the roadbed deck and the relationship between weight and loading factor. But "the advocacy for SAS has not been as strong as it was a few years ago," Oakes says.
Answering industry criticism that Caltrans failed to fully respond to industry warnings about the complex design, McPeak says the legislature specified an SAS bridge on the urging of Bay Area officials. Not until the bid opening last May after a 16-month bid period "did the budget get blown," she says. But McPeak admits that "there was not a sufficient amount of input from the industry." Adds one team participant: "The bridge got caught up in California politics. This kind of brinkmanship on big public projects is a dangerous precedent."