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French autoroute builder forced to re-bid for its job

FRENCH MINISTER of public works, transport and housing Jean-Claude Gayssot this week confirmed that roadbuilder Cofiroute will have to re- bid for the £1.1bn, A86 autoroute west of Paris.

The 18km long scheme, which includes 17km of tunnels under countryside and the historic Chteau de Versailles, was well under way when Cofiroute's concession agreement was cancelled last February (NCE 26 February). Under European law France's highest judicial authority, the Conseil d'Etat, ruled that the concession was illegal because it had not been awarded by open competition.

The project, which will complete Paris' outer ring road, has now been advertised in the Official Journal of the European Commission with no technical changes. It will be re-bid in two phases, with tenderers first having to demonstrate expertise in public works, financing and tolling. A shortlist of candidates will then submit tenders in mid September with a decision expected by the end of the year.

Cofiroute is said to have been devastated by the cancellation of the concession. Its shareholding contractors had already completed a 200m long, 35m deep retaining wall at the entrance to the tunnels and are understood to be expecting delivery of two 11m diameter Herrenknecht tunnel boring machines in the next few weeks.

But despite rumours that German and Italian consortia are lining up for the project, Cofiroute is confident of re-winning the concession. The award of the scheme to another bidder is likely to trigger further delays beyond the six months already expected, plus a legal battle over intellectual property rights.

The French company is believed to own the rights to the design layout which includes an innovative two tier tunnel for light traffic and a longer, less steep route for heavy goods vehicles. Safety and tolling products which have been developed for the scheme by Cofiroute are also understood to have been re-specified for the project.

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