California’s first American Recovery and Reinvestment Act infrastructure project broke ground last week while the state confirms that $1 billion of act funding has been obligated to 80 total projects.

Photo: Sherman Chu, Courtesy of Caltrans
Brian Gates, Top Grade’s COO, addresses the audience at the Fairfield I-80 project groundbreaking.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and representatives from Caltrans and Top Grade Construction of Livermore, the general contractor, were on hand April 30 to break ground on the $13.5-million pavement improvement project on a 50-year-old section of Interstate 80 in Fairfield between State Route 12 and Air Base Parkway, a roadway used by nearly 200,000 motorists each day.

Top Grade beat out 12 other bidders with a bid 40% under cost estimates. Caltrans Director Will Kempton says the savings on this project will be directed to advance other highway projects.

According to Top Grade spokesman Lee Myhre, Top Grade found the project through Caltrans’ website and McGraw-Hill Construction, a division of the McGraw-Hill Cos., along with Engineering News-Record and California Construction. Caltrans first advertised the project on Jan. 12.

“It was not advertised as being funded by the ARRA or shovel ready, but we are being aggressive during this downturn and expect to drive at least 60% of our revenues from public works projects,” Myhre says.

Within the next month, he adds, Top Grade will be bidding on more than $120 million of Caltrans work, including three $30 million-plus projects in its hometown of Livermore.

Complying with ARRA requirements of job creation, Top Grade says the Fairfield project will generate more than 40,000 man-hours and employing more than 200 construction workers across 20 different subcontractor and supplier companies.

The Fairfield I-80 project is comprised of rehabilitation and resurfacing of a 5 mi stretch of highway. It will take approximately 140,000 tons of asphalt concrete to resurface the freeway and more than 5,600 truckloads of material. Project completion is scheduled for December.

“I am extremely proud of our highly experienced estimating staff and the successful low bid they comprised in what has been the most challenging competitive environment our industry has seen in decades,” says Brian Gates, Top Grade Construction’s COO. “As for the execution of this very important project, we couldn’t be more excited with the opportunity it provides not only to the Top Grade workforce, but the 20 other companies that will be involved in helping make this job a major success.”

By the end of April, the Federal Highway Administration has authorized the expenditure of nearly $850 million in federal economic stimulus funds to California for transportation projects, putting the state on track to have $900 million authorized by June 30 to meet the requirements of the Recovery Act. Funds that other states do not use by this deadline will become available for the other states for transportation projects, which California will pursue aggressively.

Stimulus Snapshot
Sector Transportation
State California
Description I-80 Repavement near Fairfield
Value $13.5 million
Jobs 200
Owner Caltrans
Gen. Contractor Top Grade Construction, Livermore
Start Date April 30

Under the Recovery Act, states were given 120 days to obligate the first half of their transportation infrastructure funding, and California has obligated this funding in less than 60 days�more than two months ahead of deadline. Additionally, California is the first state in the nation to obligate nearly $1 billion of this funding.

Estimates show that California will receive nearly $2.6 billion from ARRA for highways and local streets and $1 billion for transit projects. Discretionary programs could add another $300 million and California expects to be very competitive in securing a portion of $8 billion set aside nationally for high-speed rail and intercity rail.

Caltrans on May 4 released a list of 80 projects obligated under ARRA, including the long-awaited fourth bore of the Caldecott Tunnel in Alameda County, a $192-million project; and the new six-lane SR 905 freeway in San Diego, which will cost $78.6 million.

In the coming months, Caltrans will be gearing up for opening bids to not only the big, stimulus- and bond-funded highway and bridge projects, but also its annual highway maintenance program, which uses about $200 million annually.

Caltrans is rearranging statewide personnel to handle what is expected to be an unprecedented number of contract awards, says Richard “Rick” Land, Caltrans’ chief engineer and deputy director for project delivery.

“We could be advertising 25 projects a week and maybe up to 40 on the busier periods,” says Land. “We need to get the right resources ready to handle this.”

Getting the projects and bid requirements solidified is the major goal, he says.