Rail riders got the first peek at more detailed cost estimates for the next phase of construction to build a rail connection Dulles International Airport from Washington, D.C. Bids on Phase II of the so-called Silver Line are in.
The five construction consortiums competing for the contract to build the final 11.4 miles of the project submitted detailed cost estimates and design proposals today. While a final decision is not expected until early May, the bid revealed as the lowest among these pre-approved contractor teams is squarely in line to win the contract to build Phase II of Silver Line.
Capital Rail Constructors / Clark Construction Group, LLC / Kiewit Infrastructure South Co. came in with the low bid at $1.18 billion. See below for full bids from each team. The second lowest was $1.9 billion.
The public unveiling of the bids took place at the offices of the agency overseeing the construction of the $5.5 billion project, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. MWAA's project managers decided to procure a contractor through the low-bid process in order to get the lowest cost because the rail extension is being largely financed on the backs of Dulles Toll Road users. As WAMU 88.5 has reported, critics say accepting the lowest bid fails to guarantee the best possible design for the project.
“What the authority has done is let five different bidders each come in with its own design and then MWAA is obligated to pick the lowest price irrespective of whose design is the best,” said Bob Brown, a former member of the MWAA board of directors whose term expired last year. “The authority will be forced to build whatever design the lowest bidder submits,” he says.
Moreover, the lowest bid price is not likely to be the final cost of Phase II because of the expected change orders that drive up the cost of any large project. MWAA officials insist the project oversight team will prevent unnecessary change orders.
“What you don't want to see is someone gaming the system where they bid low and come in and say they need more for this or that, and I don’t think that is going to happen here," said MWAA board vice-chairman Tom Davis, a former Virginia congressman. "This is a much simpler project than Phase I. We have five very good, capable firms bidding and I think the low bid ought to win it."
The five teams are 1) Fluor Enterprises, Tutor Perini, and Stacy and Witbeck, 2) Clark Construction and Kiewit Infrastructure, 3) Archer Western Contractors, PCL Civil Constructors, and Corman Construction, 4) Skanska USA, Granite Construction, G.A. & F.C. Wagman, Trumbull, and Facchina Construction, and 5) Bechtel Infrastructure, which built Phase I of the Silver Line from D.C. to Reston.
Dulles Toll Road users are protected by the low-bid process, Davis said. “If you ride the toll road and you don’t like paying tolls, why wouldn’t you want to go to the low bid? Seems to me you’d want the lowest bid and you wouldn’t want to be overpaying for this. I ride the toll road every day and I’m satisfied with the process."
Once the bid prices are made public today, MWAA officials will spend the news few weeks verifying that the low bidder’s design specifications are in order before awarding the contract. MWAA is obligated to accept the lowest bidder, but is prepared to handle any challenges that may arise from the four losing contractor teams.
This round of bids is about half of Phase II set to be complete by 2018, and estimated to cost a total of $2.7 billion. Phase I of the project is already 90 percent complete.