IN A day of contrasting contract announcements, last Friday saw three consortia make it past prequali ation and onto the Highways Agency's shortlist to tender for the £5bn M25 design, build, finance and operate (DBFO) contract.
The Highways Agency thought hard before cutting the five prequalied bidders to a shortlist of three (see news, p8).
The successful consortia will spend the next 12 months polishing their bids before submitting detailed tenders next autumn. The preferred bidder will be announced in 2008.
So who will win? While no one would ever be bold enough to argue that they are 'owed' by the government, the very fact that the scheme is going ahead owes much to Balfour Beatty's efforts last year on the £147M widening of junctions 12 to 15 around Heathrow.
'[The widening] gave us the confidence that we can have a prolonged period of construction that doesn't bring the M25 to a halt, ' says Highways Agency procurement director Steve Rowsell.
Balfour Beatty's success on that job has already seen it scoop the £241M M1 widening of junctions 6A to 10 in joint venture with Skanska and Atkins. It is this team, with Egis Projects as Connect Plus, that must be the hot tip for the big one But the Agency has made it clear that the project is only in part a widening scheme - expected to make up £1.5bn to £2bn of the total cost. The remaining £3bn will go on the 30-year maintenance operation, expected to be worth £100M a year. 'We will be looking for a fully integrated approach, ' says Rowsell.
'The maintainer and operator will be feeding into the design at the outset so we get long-term value for money.' Connect Plus' only maintenance experience with the Agency is through the InterRoute consortium - a joint venture between Balfour Beatty subsidiary RCS and Mott MacDonald which looks after Areas 2 and 4.
This is relatively weak compared with the competition.
Both consortia have maintenance experience in abundance.
The Amey, Laing O'Rourke & Ferrovial Agroman consortium can lean on Amey's experiences as AmeyMouchel, which manages Areas 1, 6, 9, 10 and 13.
The Flow consortium is like a Who's Who of road builders, maintainers and operators, comprising Vinci, Autoroutes du Sud de la France, Laing Roads, Carillion, Costain, Ringway, Mouchel Parkman, Norwest Holst and Jacobs.
It also includes Dartford Crossing operators Jacobs and Ringway (as Le Crossing with Co oute) and the M25's managing agent and contractor Carillion.
By the time the bids are in, Balfour Beatty will be busy on the East London Line (News last week), Laing O'Rourke will be manically working on the Olympics and the Flow team will hardly be lying idle with its brimming workbook.
It all means that the toughest job may be convincing the Agency that the best men will be on the job.