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Shock as Bay Bridge bid price doubles

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OFFICIALS IN California transport department, Caltrans, are reeling after just one bidder tendered for the seismic upgrade of the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Bridge (SFOBB).

The lower of the two options priced came in at $1.4bn - almost double the initial $740M estimate.

The tender was for the superstructure of the self-anchored suspension (SAS) section of the replacement of the east span of the SFOBB.

A joint venture of American Bridge, NS Bridge and Fluor Enterprises put the cost at $1.8bn using domestic steel and $1.4bn for an alternative with foreign steel. 'Buy America' rules would allow the steel to be sourced from abroad as the saving is more than 25%.

'We were surprised at the size of these bids, both the domestic and the foreign, ' said Caltrans toll bridge chief Dan McElhinney. 'We are now looking at the overall cost of the SAS and trying to decide whether or not it is a reasonable reflection of the market for this type of structure and whether or not we can manage it within our budget.'

This is the 12th of 16 contracts for the 3.54km easterly section of SFOBB, which is being built under a seismic safety programme which covers seven major Californian toll bridges. Construction of the 1.77km central Skyway portion of the bridge is well under way and the SAS foundation work has already been let.

The self-anchored suspension contract covers the signature part of the structure including the steel tower, the cables and an orthotropic steel deck. It will have a 365m forward span and 165m back span, with two side-by-side decks 15m apart.

The huge amount of steel needed - some 67,000t - proved a key factor in the bidding.

'There is enough high-strength structural steel to build 10 Eiffel Towers, ' said McElhinney.

'It is a big draw on the overall steel market.'

Steel prices have risen 25% since December, he said. 'We knew the steel issue would be a factor.'

Bid opening was on 26 May.

Caltrans has 60 days for evaluation before deciding whether or not to award or request an extension.

Part of the process will determine whether the level of the bid was down to lack of competition or was a true indicator of the market, said McElhinney. Follow-up questioning is planned, and Caltrans has the option of talking to organisations that chose not to compete as well as to the bidder.

'We had hoped to keep the competition strong, ' said McElhinney. 'The bridge pushes technology, but also pushes the market and the capacity of contractors.'

Initially, Caltrans believed there would be five bidders.

The project had been advertised for over a year, partly to give contractors time to put their plans together.

'But a lot of them could not get the bonding, or could not get a joint venture together, ' said McElhinney. Getting both domestic and foreign fabricators lined up also proved to be an issue he said.

'As we got closer we thought that at least two joint venture companies were going to bid.'

The have been some savings over the last few years across the whole seismic programme, which could increase the budget available, said McElhinney.

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