Wong/Harris to oversee Valley high-speed rail build

The Fresno BeeJanuary 23, 2013 

An artist's depiction of a high-speed rail train zooming past downtown Fresno.

FRESNO BEE ILLUSTRATION

The California High-Speed Rail Authority has yet to select a contractor to build the first stretch of its proposed statewide line in Fresno and Madera counties.

But on Wednesday, the agency did hire Wong/Harris, a team of two companies, to oversee whoever is chosen for design and construction of the initial 23-mile segment this year.

Five teams of contractors submitted bids to the authority last week in hopes of winning a contract that could potentially be worth up to $2 billion for the construction work. They are:

  • 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 Parsons Corp. of Pasadena.

The construction-management contract awarded Wednesday is worth up to $34.9 million to the joint venture of PGH Wong Engineering, a San Francisco engineering and consulting company, and Harris & Associates, a Concord-based consulting and management firm. Together, the companies will be the state's eyes and ears supervising the Madera-to-Fresno work.

Wong/Harris beat three other bids for the construction management contract.

"These companies have extensive experience in transit and rail programs in California and around the country," said Jeffrey Morales, the rail authority's CEO. "They will ensure that the design-builder adheres to the conditions of the contract. They will be reviewing the work and reporting back to us."

Diana Gomez, the authority's project manager for the Central Valley region, said Wong/Harris will also help the agency evaluate bids from the five contracting teams.

The contract to complete the design and then build the Madera-Fresno portion of the high-speed rail route could be worth as much as $2 billion, depending on how competitive the five construction teams were in their bids. But the prices of the bids won't be opened until after each proposal is judged on a pass-fail basis by the rail authority to make sure that the companies meet all of the technical requirements of the job. Morales said that review could take six to eight weeks before the agency opens the envelopes for the contract prices.

The authority hopes to award the construction contract in June.

Chowchilla connection

Also during Wednesday's meeting, the authority's board learned that its staff has been working to unravel a "spaghetti bowl" of route options around Chowchilla, where a portion of the rail line will connect an east-west line to Gilroy and San Jose.

As many as 14 alternatives were being considered for the Chowchilla connection on the Merced-Fresno section of the route. Now, only six remain in contention.

Mark McLaughlin, the authority's deputy director for environmental planning, said the agency will meet with city and county officials, property owners and the public to discuss the potential effects of those options. McLaughlin said he plans to present an analysis of the alternatives to the authority's board in March.

By April, one of the connections is expected to be selected for a detailed environmental review that will eventually be incorporated into the already-approved Merced-Fresno section of the route. When the authority's board approved the route last spring, it excluded the Chowchilla connection to allow a more detailed evaluation of the options.

The six remaining alternatives focus on potential east-west routes along Avenue 24, Avenue 21 and Highway 152, and potential north-south connections along Road 11, Road 13 and Road 18.

Future construction

The rail authority also said Wednesday that it will seek information from contractors who want to build three sections between Fresno and Bakersfield: from the south end of Fresno to Lansing Avenue near Corcoran; from Corcoran to the Elmo Highway in northern Kern County; and from the Elmo Highway southward toward Bakersfield. One final construction package in the Valley will cover laying the steel tracks for the entire Madera-Bakersfield stretch.

Thomas Fellenz, the authority's chief counsel, said companies that are deemed qualified will then be invited to submit bids. He said he doesn't expect work to begin until April 2014 at the earliest.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6319, tsheehan@fresnobee.com or @tsheehan on Twitter.

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