Easing up slightly on the gas pedal, the Trump administration has delayed until at least early May the award of design-build contracts for the multi­billion-dollar southern border wall, even as interest mounts regarding the massive but controversial project. Almost 400 firms or individuals have registered on the project’s website as potential vendors.

The U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security last month announced a whirlwind bidding process that would have jammed two rounds of bidding into a little over a month, culminating in the mid-April award of initial contracts to design and build parts of the wall.

But in a revised schedule posted on March 3 on the FedBizOpps.gov website, the department announced plans to send out a request for proposals on or about March 8, beginning a two-stage selection process. The department revised its strategy “based on input received after the original posting,” according to the presolicitation notice posted on the project website. Contractors will have until March 20 or thereabouts to submit their proposals, a “concept paper of their prototype.” 

Once the initial proposals are winnowed down, short-listed companies must submit a full proposal, providing designs and prices. So far, the department says it seeks ideas “for concrete wall structures, nominally 30 ft tall, that will meet requirements for aesthetics, anti-climbing, and resistance to tampering or damage.”

The “interested vendors” that registered on the project website range from giants such as Kiewit Corp. and Granite Construction Co., which both have worked on previous southern-border barrier projects, to solo consultants and small contractors with just a handful of employees.

Jolynn Buresh, an estimating and proposal coordinator for California-based Shimmick Construction Co., said she was surprised at the number of contractors and other companies that had signaled at least a passing interest in the border-wall project, especially given that relatively few details are known about it yet. “We are just looking,” she said, adding that the company is “not sure at this time” whether it will compete for a contract.

Materials suppliers expressed interest, too. Along with CalPortland and Mexico-based Cemex, Vulcan Materials Co., a Birmingham, Ala.-based producer of construction aggregates, was cited in a recent sector analysis report by Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. The report listed companies with plants near the border that could benefit from the wall project. Companies with production facilities closest to the border stand to gain the most, the report notes. Other big names on the “interested vendors” list include Mass Electric Construction Corp., Zachry Federal Construction Corp., CB&I Federal Services, Traylor Bros. Inc., Tutor Perini Corp., Caddell Construction and Fluor Federal Solutions.

The informal cost estimates for the project start at about $12 billion for the nearly 2,000-mile border, but some expect the cost to be much higher. In its March 3 presolictation notices, the border-control agency stressed that the pending call for bids is “to acquire and evaluate available wall prototypes and provide some initial construction” of some segments.

Creative Outlet

Dozens of smaller firms also have expressed interest. For John Sanford, head of a Tulsa-based architectural practice, the wall is not just a money-making proposition but a creative opportunity. He is planning to submit a border-wall proposal in part as a way to give younger employees in his office an interesting challenge. Sanford’s firm typically focuses on hotel and retail projects and mansions for wealthy local executives.

Sanford and his employees have explored the idea of putting photovoltaic intakes on the wall to generate solar power. Another architect on Sanford’s  team is weighing the idea of a moat. “I thought this wall project, whatever it turns out to be, would be interesting for them,” he said.