High-speed rail board to vote on first contract

tsheehan@fresnobee.comJune 4, 2013 

— A contract to design and build the first portion of a proposed statewide high-speed rail line, involving construction in the Fresno-Madera area, is to be approved Thursday.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority board will meet in Sacramento and consider awarding a $985.1 million contract to a consortium comprised of Tutor Perini Corp. of Sylmar, Texas-based Zachry Construction, and Parsons Corp., a Pasadena company. The consortium was the low bidder from among five teams competing for the contract.

The contract covers a stretch of about 30 miles, including building a rail bed, bridges and street overpasses, from Avenue 17 at the the northeast outskirts of Madera to American Avenue at the south end of Fresno.

It will be the first of four such contracts for the rail line from Madera to the north fringe of Bakersfield.

A fifth contract would cover installation of the railroad tracks for the entire Madera-Bakersfield stretch.

Officially, the board will vote on whether to authorize the rail authority's CEO, Jeffrey Morales, to finalize negotiations and execute a contract with the Tutor Perini/Zachry/Parsons team.

"We'll still have to dot the i's and cross the t's," Morales said Tuesday. "We expect to have the contract itself done in the next few weeks."

The Tutor Perini team and other construction teams submitted their bids in January, and in April, after the technical merits of all five teams were evaluated, the bid results were announced. Since that time, the authority has been in limited negotiations with Tutor Perini to work out details.

Engineers and consultants for the rail authority originally estimated that the Madera-Fresno work would cost between $1.5 billion and $2 billion; those projections were later reduced to $1.2 billion to $1.8 billion. The Tutor Perini consortium was the only bidding team with a proposal that came in at under $1 billion.

The authority expects to allow an extra $53 million to cover the potential costs of removing hazardous materials such as asbestos from buildings that will be demolished to make way for the railroad.

"That would have been on top of any of the contractors' bids," Morales said. "We can reasonably expect there to be hazardous waste in some of those buildings, but we could not get access to the buildings."

Rather than requiring the contractors to guess, "we told them not to include those estimates, that we would provide an allowance to deal with those unknowns."

In a memo to the authority board, chief program manager Frank Vacca reported that the Tutor Perini team "offered certain innovations which have the potential to achieve contract savings" for the cost of the project.

Also, he added, the Tutor Perini team provided "a commitment to a six-month-early completion date."

According to the conditions under which contractors submitted their bids, the authority expects the construction work to be substantially completed by December 2017, with final acceptance of the work the following February.

The route starts out near the Burlington Northern Santa Fe freight rail tracks near Madera, then cuts across farmland southeast of Madera to the San Joaquin River, where the tracks will run parallel to the Union Pacific Railroad tracks near Highway 99 through Fresno.

South of downtown Fresno, the tracks will return to a route parallel to the BNSF tracks, which are shared by Amtrak's San Joaquin passenger trains.

Morales said some work could begin in the Madera-Fresno area this summer, including clearing ground, relocating utilities and demolishing buildings in advance of construction.

The rail board's chairman, Dan Richard, will likely abstain from the discussion and vote on the contract — a practice he began more than a year ago because he at one time worked as a consultant for Parsons Corp., one of the companies in the Tutor Perini consortium.

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