SACRAMENTO — At least one member of the California High-Speed Rail Authority board wants to know more about the prospective construction contractor for the first stretch in Fresno and Madera before he votes to award a contract next month.
At the agency's meeting Thursday in Sacramento, board member Jim Hartnett of Redwood City took note of a "significant difference" between the technical scores of the two lowest bidders for the 29-mile route.
A consortium comprising the Sylmar-based Tutor Perini corporation, Zachry Construction of Texas and Parsons Corp. of Pasadena submitted the low bid of under $1 billion, but had the lowest technical ranking.
Tutor Perini/Zachry/Parsons received a technical score of 20.55 out of a possible 30 points in an evaluation before the prices of any of the five bidding construction teams were revealed. The second-lowest bid -- $1.1 billion from 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 -- received a technical score of 26.13 points out of 30.
"What I want to hear more about is the technical qualifications," Hartnett told his colleagues. "Despite what would appear on the surface to be a significant difference between the first- and second-place bidders, does that reflect a true significant difference in the ability of the lowest-dollar bidder to deliver what's promised?"
Hartnett added that he and his colleagues "need to be given assurances as a board that what we've set up and what we're getting is what we're promised. I think that's part of our responsibility."
Hartnett's question went unanswered Thursday. After the meeting, he said it was not his intention to have answers on the spot, but instead to let the authority's staff know what his expectation is before the board is asked in June to award a contract to Tutor Perini/Zachry/Parsons.
Hartnett said he'll be looking for specific information about each of the companies in the Tutor Perini/Zachry/Parsons team, and which company will be responsible for various parts of designing and building the Fresno-Madera segment. "I want to know more about the evaluation of their prior design-build projects or experience so that we can be assured that they've been through this, how they've fared in other projects."
Hartnett's comments came after several members of the public took the authority to task for changes to the bid-evaluation process last fall.
When the agency announced it was seeking bids in March 2012, the process called for a two-part screening in which all of the bids would be analyzed for technical merit; only the three highest-scoring technical bids would move on to the second phase, opening their cost proposals.
In August, the agency amended the evaluation process to allow all bids passing the technical muster -- and not just the top three -- to move on to the price competition. That revised process was the basis on which five teams of contracting firms prepared their bids.
Rail authority officials defended the changes to the bidding process as "improvements" that increased the competition among the would-be construction teams. Authority CEO Jeff Morales said the modifications to the bidding criteria were among more than 1,000 amendments made over the course of 10 months before contractors submitted their bids in January.
In March 2011, the rail board adopted the two-step evaluation process, including the provision that only the three bidders with the highest technical scores would compete on price. The same vote also authorized the agency CEO to make non-substantive changes to the request for proposals, in consultation with board chairman Dan Richard.
But Richard, who once worked as a consultant for Parsons Corp., has excused himself from the entire bidding process, from the request for proposals through the prospective contract award in June.