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Countdown to contract award

Midland Expressway, a 50-50 joint venture between Trafalgar House and Italian motorway operator Autostrade, won the Birmingham Northern Relief Road concession in 1991.

At the time it was understood that Trafalgar would take on the main construction contract.

Since then MEL's shareholders have changed.

Kvaerner took over Trafalgar House in 1995, taking on its stake in MEL. During a review of its non-core activities, Kvaerner decided to sell its stake to Macquarie Bank of Australia, along with stakes in other private toll concessions, including the Dartford Crossing and the Vasco DaGama bridge in Lisbon.

Kvaerner was to have retained the construction contract, but following the sale of Kvaerner's stake to Macquarie, MEL decided to put the job out to competitive tender. It has since short listed two consortia: Bouygues/ Mowlem/Costain/Skanska and Carillion/ AlfredMcAlpine/ Balfour Beatty/Amec. Bids are due in on 28 July.

Unusually for such a large project, construction is being let as a single contract, rather than as a series of packages.

It is understood that the winning contractor can elect to split the work up. MEL says the reason for awarding a single contract is that it is easier to manage. Dividing it into packages also increases the risk that one will finish late and hold up the whole project.

At the same time MEL is seeking bids to finance the project from groups of banks.

If all goes to plan, construction contracts should be awarded in the autumn, coinciding with the signing of the financing deal.

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