THE TWO remaining consortia bidding to build Italy's g4.6bn (£3.1bn) Messina bridge decided against merging and submitted individual bids to government client Stretto di Messina at the end of last month.
Italian contractors Astaldi and Impregilo, which head the two bid teams, considered joining forces following withdrawal of the consortium led by Austrian contractor Strabag at the end of April, complaining project risks were ill defined. Its members included Bouygues of France, Spain's Dragados and Risalto of Italy.
Bids from the three prequalified contracting consortia were invited at the end of October 2004 and were to be submitted on 27 April. But with only two bidders left in the running, Astaldi won a time extension and the bidding period was put back a month, to 25 May.
The road/rail suspension bridge, which will join the Italian mainland with Sicily, will have a world record breaking 3.3km central span. But construction of the bridge accounts for only £1.2bn of the total price.
The crossing will link into the road and rail networks on either side via a combined 40km of new roads and railway, costing £1.5bn, more than 30km of it in tunnel.
Terms drawn up by Stretto di Messina require the successful bidder to bear the risks of unforeseen ground conditions, archaeological delays, land acquisition problems, bad weather, materials cost increases and unforeseen maintenance problems.
It is insisting on a fixed price 68month construction programme.
Relatively little ground investigation was done before tenders were invited, leaving bidders without detailed information on which to draw up designs.
The area is an earthquake zone, with Sicily on a different tectonic plate to Calabria. Yet seismic information was also lacking in tender documents, Strabag head of civil engineering Martin Ullrich claimed.
A spokeswoman for Stretto di Messina said discussions between the two consortia over submitting a joint bid had been led by Astaldi.
She said Impregilo had pulled the plug on negotiations.
Key members have withdrawn from both consortia, also claiming the risks were badly defi ned and that too little time had been allowed to address them.
The Astaldi group lost Spanish contractors Necso and Ferrovial while Impregilo lost Vinci of France and Ishikawajima Harima Heavy Industries of Japan.