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Autopsy of Wilson Bridge Bid Gets Underway

No matter what the outcome of the reevaluation of the bid to replace the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, the project will be delayed approximately five months.

That is the latest opinion of John R. Undeland, public affairs director, Potomac Crossing Consultants. "It's way too early to say what's going to happen, but in the wake of this high single bid Maryland has impaneled an independent committee to analyze the bid line by line," Undeland explained on Friday.

"They are going to be talking to other contractors as to why they did not bid. They hope to have a game plan no later than the end of February," he said. The present bid was submitted by Kiewit, Tidewater and Clark, the primary contractors for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project.

"But Virginia is moving ahead cautiously on this side of the river. There is an enormous amount of work to be done and staying on schedule is a way to control costs."

The independent review committee referred to by Undeland has been established by Maryland and federal officials. It is composed of engineers and construction industry professionals headed by Tom Warne, president, Tom Warne and Associates, a western U.S. based construction consulting firm.

Warne has worked on a number of other mammoth projects throughout the nation including the Interstate 15 construction in Utah, considered one of the largest, according to Undeland. "He understands all the elements," Undeland said.

Kiewit was also involved with that project which carried a price tag of $1.35 billion.

The primary job of the committee will be to evaluate factors that inhibited competition and resulted in bid prices far in excess of the estimate, according to Undeland. The joint venture of Kiewit, Tidewater and Clark submitted a bid of $859.9 million, approximately 75 percent over the engineer's original estimate.

Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration [SHA] Administrator, Parker F. Williams said, "The state is disappointed that there was no competition for the contract and that the only bid submitted was so dramatically over the budget.

"This situation forces us to consider options and ultimately delays start of construction. By bringing in additional resources, we hope to expedite the process." SHA is evaluating how to gain additional competition and reduce bid prices.

A VARIETY OF OPTIONS

Some of the options being considered include negotiating with the sole bidder; re-packaging the bid documents into smaller contracts; value engineering calling for the use of more economical materials and other changes to the bid package that could result in more competition and reduced costs.

According to SHA, the state expects to take information from the committee, its own research and consultation with partners into consideration and to develop a range of options by late January with an action plan by mid-February.

This particular element of the project applies only to the bridge superstructure or that portion above the water. Officials had estimated it would cost between $400 and $500 million. The entire project, including both the Maryland and Virginia land elements, has been pegged at $2.443 billion.

Within the past two weeks VDOT began the Virginia land portion which will stretch from the abutment at S. Royal Street to just west of Telegraph Road. The estimated cost of that segment is $1.019 billion.

Although more than $1.5 billion of the total cost of the seven-and one-half mile river crossing enterprise is coming from the federal government, the impact of the bid overrun is exacerbated by the fiscal dilemmas in which both states find themselves at this time. Of the two, Virginia has the greater deficit problem.

Kiewit, in a different joint venture alliance, is embroiled in another substantial bid overrun controversy in the San Francisco Bay area. But in that situation theirs was not the only bid and it was the lower of two submissions.

The analysis committee has been assembled by Maryland because it is the prime overseer of the bridge portion. The Potomac River is under the auspices of Maryland and the Federal government. Virginia's jurisdiction stops at the river's edge.