High Speed Rail officials changed the rules to select the contractor with the lowest safety and engineering rating
- Political hacks select an artificially low bid to keep the money train belching out cash for unions and businesses. The cost overruns come later.
High-speed rail officials for the People's Republic of California acknowledged Thursday that they changed their rules for selecting a builder for the bullet train’s first phase in the Central Valley, making it possible for a consortium led by Sylmar-based Tutor Perini to be ranked as the top candidate despite receiving the lowest technical rating.
The California High Speed Rail Authority announced last week that the Tutor Perini-Zachary-Parsons joint venture was the top-rated contender among five bidders seeking to build the initial 29 miles of track between Madera and Fresno.
While it offered the lowest price at $985.1 million, the Tutor Perini team’s technical score ranked last. Ferrovial and Acciona, two Spanish firms with significant high-speed rail experience, had the highest technical mark but bid almost $1.4 billion. The rail agency board is expected to select a contractor in coming months after additional negotiations reports the Los Angeles Times.
The technical score is based on safety measures, engineering, scheduling, quality of design, project approach and solutions to possible construction problems.
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Under that process, the Tutor Perini consortium and another team by Skanska, a Swedish company, would have been eliminated after the first round, leaving groups led by Colorado-based Kiewit and two teams led by Spanish firms, Dragados and Ferrovial.
The High Spped Rail Board adopted the two-step process, which the agency’s staff said would create competition and obtain quality technical proposals for the first 200-mph rail system to be constructed in the United States.
The agency changed the evaluation process in July, according to an agency spokesman. The official did not provide details of the internal process used to alter the criteria. But he said the state potentially will save hundreds of millions of dollars as a result of the decision to change the evaluation criteria.
But Elizabeth Goldstein Alexis of Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design, a group critical of the bullet train project, disagreed and argued that the change in evaluation criteria has invalidated the bidding process. “This is not a non-substantive change,” she said. “I don’t see any indication that the board approved this.”
In the end, the state placed far more weight on price than the technical evaluation (safety and engineering), which is contrary to best practices suggested by some construction industry groups. The Design Build Institute of America advises public agencies to put greater emphasis on technical merit to avoid later problems on a project.
The technical proposals could be critical. Building the first section will require a massive engineering feat on a tight schedule that includes cutting a 1.7-mile trench through Fresno, erecting a 1.2-mile viaduct and three major bridges and using giant hydraulic jacks to create a tunnel beneath California 180 in the Fresno area.
Tutor Perini is one of the largest contractors in the country. Critics have complained the firm tends to bid low to win contracts and then seeks change orders and contract amendments that increase costs.