The California High-Speed Rail Authority on Friday issued a request for qualifications to contractors that might be interested in building Construction Package 4, a 30-mile stretch of the bullet-train route through Kern County northwest of Bakersfield.
The request represents a pre-screening step that will eventually lead to establishing a short list of contractor teams that will be deemed eligible to bid to design and build the project. The rail authority’s engineers and consultants estimate that the work will cost $700 million to $900 million — potentially the least expensive of three construction segments of the route between Madera and Bakersfield. (An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the work cost estimate at $700,000 to $900,000.)
To the north, the construction consortium of Tutor Perini/Zachry/Parsons is continuing its design work on a 29-mile section known as Construction Package 1, from the northeast edge of Madera to the southern fringe of Fresno under a contract worth about $1 billion. While no construction has occurred yet on that stretch, consultants for the rail authority are trying to step up their efforts to acquire the property needed for the rail right of way and for structures like road overpasses and bridges. Scattered buildings are being demolished as property is secured to make way for the construction.
Last month, three teams submitted bids competing for the contract to design and build the second construction section, dubbed Construction Package 2-3, which runs from American Avenue at the south end of Fresno, through southern Fresno County and Kings County and into Tulare County, stopping just short of the Tulare-Kern county line. The rail authority hopes to award a contract in early 2015. The prices of those bids have not yet been opened, but the authority has forecast the cost at between $1.5 billion and $2 billion.
Construction Package 4 picks up where CP 2-3 leaves off and continues to Galpin Road, a short distance north of Seventh Standard Road at the northwest edge of Bakersfield. “The major civil work elements include at-grade and aerial sections of the high-speed rail alignment,” Scott Jarvis, the rail authority’s chief deputy program manager, told the agency’s board earlier this week. The project also calls for relocating about 4.6 miles of the BNSF Railway’s existing freight railroad tracks along the route.
Contractors have until Jan. 30 to submit their statements of qualifications to the authority.
Each of the first three contracts includes building the route up to the railbed as well as any necessary bridges, road overpasses or other structures. A subsequent contract will be issued for finishing the railbed and laying steel tracks covering the approximately 120 miles of the first three sections.
The segments of the rail route through the central and southern San Joaquin Valley are intended to form the backbone of what is supposed to eventually become a statewide high-speed train line connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles, with later phases extending to Sacramento, the Inland Empire and San Diego. The state has about $6 billion available for the Valley segments — a combination of a little more than $3 billion in federal stimulus and intercity rail funds from the Obama administration and a little under $3 billion in money from Proposition 1A, a state high-speed rail bond measure approved by California voters in 2008.
But the rail authority and its contractors face a significant time crunch. There is a deadline of Sept. 30, 2017, by which the federal grants must be spent and the Valley segments from Madera to Bakersfield achieve “substantial completion.” That deadline continues to face stress by the slow pace of buying the property needed for right of way.
Jarvis reported Tuesday that of 525 parcels needed for the 29-mile Construction Package 1, appraisals had been completed for 496, including 475 for which formal written offers have been made. So far, however, fewer than 100 pieces of property had been certified as available to the contractors. “The good news is, we feel like we are starting to turn a corner,” Jarvis told the rail board. “Now it’s a matter of getting through the process of handing property off to the design-build contractor.”
Jarvis added that 539 parcels are needed for the second construction segment south of Fresno, and expects right of way purchases to go smoother. “We have a good jump on CP2-3 compared to CP 1,” he said of the pace of appraisals and first offers made to property owners.
The project is also beset by ongoing court challenges. A court hearing is expected early next year in a lawsuit by Kings County farmer John Tos, Hanford homeowner Aaron Fukuda and the Kings County Board of Supervisors that contends the statewide project violates provisions of Prop. 1A. There are also seven separate lawsuits against the rail authority over its approval of the Fresno-Bakersfield segment of the route, alleging that the agency violated the California Environmental Quality Act.