ITALY WAS last week struggling to save the E4.6bn (£3.1bn) Messina suspension bridge project between the mainland and Sicily.
The project's government-run promoter was pinning its hopes on a second extension to the bid deadline after one of three short-listed consortia withdrew its bid.
The two remaining consortia have also lost key members and said they were considering submitting a joint bid.
The road/rail bridge incorporates a record breaking 3.3km central span, as well as extensive approach works including more than 30km of tunnel. The site also straddles two tectonic plates.
Austrian contracting giant Strabag said its consortium had withdrawn from the competition, complaining that risks were ill defined.
Its members included Bouygues of France, Spain's Dragados and Risalto of Italy.
Bid terms drawn up by government client body Stretto di Messina require the successful bidder to bear risks of:
l nforeseen ground conditions, l archaeological elays l land acquisition problems l bad weather l materials cost increases l unforeseen maintenance problems The client is insisting on a fi ed price 68-month construction programme.
'On a world record bridge these terms were not fair, ' Strabag head of civil engineering Martin Ullrich told NCE.
He said the construction programme was 'very short. Just possible.' Bids from the three prequalifi d contracting consortia were invited at the end of October last year and were to be submitted on 27 April.
Ullrich said there had been some hopes of negotiating new terms with the client.
ut requests made in December for an extension of the tender period so that risks could be more fully explored were refused.
'We had 50 engineers working on the project. Even with 100 engineers, or 200, we needed more time to look at technical and fi nancial issues, ' said Ullrich.
'It wasn't worth our while spending £6.6M to prepare a tender if we couldn't do it in time, ' said Ullrich.
Key members of the other two prequalifi consortia, headed by Italian firms Astaldi and Impregilo, have also dropped out, citing similar concerns.
French giant Vinci, which last year completed Greece's landmark Rion-Antirion cable stay bridge, pulled out of Impregilo's line up earlier this year.
Impregilo is also believed to have lost Japanese steelwork specialist Ishikawajima Harima Heavy Industries.
Astaldi is understood to have lost Spanish construction giant Ferrovial from its consortium.
Impregilo now has an entirely Italian squad of Societa Italiana per Condotte d'Acqua, CMC di Ravenna, Sacyr, and Consorzio Stabile.
Astaldi is with Italians Pizzarotti, Co-operative Costruzioni, Grandi Lavori Fincosit, Vianni Lavori, Ghella, Maire Engineering, Spanish firm Necso, and Japan's Nippon Steel.
With only two bidders left in the running, Stretto di Messina last week caved in to pressure from Astaldi for a tender time extension.
The bidding period has been put back a month, to 25 May.
'This is a large, high risk contract. From a technical point of view it's very complex. We needed more time, ' said an Astaldi spokeswoman.
Astaldi and Impregilo may use the next month to work up a joint proposal, and submit a single bid, added the spokeswoman.
Ullrich said that Stretto di Messina's decision had come too late to revive Strabag's interest in the project.
But he warned that if a single, combined bid was put forward by the Astaldi and Impregilo groups, Strabag could launch a legal challenge.
'This would go against any European Union law. We were all prequalifi d as individual consortia, and there are rules forbidding us to talk to one another, ' Ullrich said.