State leaders will consider giving the go-ahead for the California High-Speed Rail Authority to begin negotiating for property in Fresno and Madera counties needed for high-speed train tracks.
At its meeting today in Sacramento, the state's Public Works Board is expected to approve the formal selection of 356 separate parcels by the rail authority. The Public Works Board, which includes the directors of the state's Finance, General Services and Transportation departments, is in charge of buying land for highway and other transportation projects in the state.
Also this week, five contracting teams are expected to submit their bids to design and build the first stretches of the proposed statewide rail system.
The Public Works Board's executive director, Greg Rogers, said selecting the parcels will let the rail authority begin making offers to owners whose property is targeted for the first stage of construction. Those parcels are either in the path of the tracks themselves or will be affected by related construction, including overpasses to carry city streets and county roads over the tracks or the relocation of Highway 99 between Ashlan and Clinton avenues.
The rail authority hopes to begin construction later this year on a 23-mile stretch from Avenue 17 east of Madera to downtown Fresno, even though it's facing lawsuits from property owners and others who are either unhappy with the route, dissatisfied with the agency's assessment of the project's environmental effects, or simply opposed to building the rail system.
First, however, the agency needs the Public Works Board's approval to proceed.
"It's an important step forward in the process as we move toward construction," said Jeffrey Morales, the authority's chief executive officer. "We cannot actually start the process of getting down to real discussions with property owners about how their situations will be handled" without today's anticipated action.
Detailed land plans
According to a detailed 152-page plan distributed to would-be contractors earlier this month, the agency would buy about 100 parcels on the list in their entirety -- mostly smaller lots where the amount of acreage left over from the railroad right of way, road relocations or other construction needs would be practically useless. On the rest of the properties, the authority would only buy portions needed for the route.
"What that plan shows is what is needed for the project," Morales said. "There is some leeway" over how much of a parcel the agency would buy, or how to deal with larger parcels that would be bisected by the rail line, he said.
"But until the Public Works Board approves the parcels, we can't actually get down to that level of discussion with property owners," Morales said.
The right-of-way plan indicates that the purchases will likely be spread out over the next two years, depending on the priority that contractors have put on each parcel for their construction needs. Nearly 130 parcels are proposed to be acquired by the end of this year, including 75 that will be needed by the end of September.
Meanwhile, Friday is the deadline for contractors competing to build the Madera-Fresno section to submit bids to the rail authority. But the winning company or team will probably not be known for weeks while the agency combs through the bid packages.
"This is not something like a typical Caltrans project, where you open the bid and you know the price and you know who wins," Morales said. For this project, contractors are bidding not only to build the rail line, but also to finish the design and engineering work.
Morales said the bids will be evaluated in two stages: the technical proposals, and then the price. A detailed review of the technical proposal will be judged on a pass-fail basis to ensure that the companies fulfill all of the requirements and provide all required certifications.
"We won't even open the prices for something like six weeks," Morales said. "We don't want a price to skew the technical review of the bids. But that also means that if a contractor doesn't make it through the technical review, we won't even open their price."
Cost could reach $1.8 billion
The rail authority estimates that the first construction package will cost $1.2 billion to $1.8 billion. It will include a bridge over the San Joaquin River, elevated tracks over Herndon Avenue, a tunnel under Belmont Avenue and Highway 180, an elevated railway to cross over Highway 99 at the south end of Fresno and 12 street or road overpasses.
Five construction teams were pre-qualified last year by the rail authority to bid on the first construction segment:
California Backbone Builders, a consortium of two Spanish construction firms: Ferrovial Agroman and Acciona
California High-Speed Rail Partners, composed of Fluor Corp. of Texas, Swedish-based Skanska and PCL Constructors of Canada
California High-Speed Ventures, made up of Kiewit Corp. of Nebraska, Granite Construction of Watsonville and Comsa EMTE of Spain
Dragados/Samsung/Pulice, a joint venture of Dragados SA of Spain; Samsung C&T America, a subsidiary of South Korean multinational Samsung Group; and Pulice Construction Inc. of Arizona
Tutor Perini/Zachry/Parsons, a consortium made up of Tutor Perini Corp. of Sylmar, Zachry Construction Corp. of Texas and Pasadena-based Parsons Corp.
"All five of them are still in this, as far as we know," Morales said last week. "We continue to have back-and-forth discussions with them, and we anticipate receiving five proposals."
The rail authority originally expected that bids for the work would be submitted in September with hopes of awarding a contract by the end of 2012. That deadline was pushed back, first to November and then to this month, at the request of the contracting teams as they sought more detailed information about the plans.