The California High-Speed Rail Authority is pushing back Friday's deadline for bids to design and build the first stretch of high-speed rail line through the Fresno area.
Authority CEO Jeffrey Morales said Tuesday that questions from five consortiums of building firms prompted the authority to set Jan. 18 as the new date by which bids must be submitted for a 28-mile stretch of the line from Avenue 17, northeast of Madera, to American Avenue at the south end of Fresno.
"The bidders have been asking for more information and more time to analyze the information," Morales said.
Earlier this year, the authority had anticipated that contractors would submit their bids by August or September, with a contract awarded by the end of this year. The deadline was pushed back at the request of the contractors to Nov. 2, with a prospective contract award in late February or early March 2013.
"These firms are literally spending millions of dollars to put their proposals together," Morales said. "It's in both their interest and our interest to get it right. Our goal is to keep all five engaged and get the best possible deal."
Five construction teams were pre-qualified earlier this year by the rail authority to bid on the first construction segment:
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 Pasadena-based Parsons Corp.
Representatives of the contractor teams did not return calls seeking comment.
The rail authority estimates that the first construction package will cost between $1.2 billion and $1.8 billion. It will include a bridge over the San Joaquin River, an elevated railway over Herndon Avenue, a tunnel beneath Belmont Avenue and Highway 180, an elevated railway to cross over Highway 99 at the south end of Fresno and 12 street or road overpasses.
Morales said the agency now expects to award a contract by June. The winning contracting team would then finish the project design and engineering work -- now estimated to be about 30% completed -- and begin construction.
The Madera-Fresno section is the first of five construction packages from Madera to just north of Bakersfield for which the Obama administration has ponied up more than $3 billion in federal stimulus and transportation money. Those funds, however, come with strings that require the 130 miles of work to be completed and the money spent by Sept. 30, 2017.
That deadline represents an immovable object toward which the massive infrastructure project is nudged closer with each delay and postponement.
Court records filed by the rail authority last month suggest that significant delays could jeopardize the federal money if the Federal Railroad Administration determines that the deadline cannot be met.
"Failure to complete construction in the timing required ... or if it appears that the construction timing cannot be met because of delays, risks the entire funding," said Brent Felker, a program manager for Parsons Brinckerhoff, the authority's management consulting firm, in a court declaration. The declaration was filed as part of the agency's legal battle with opponents who are seeking an injunction to halt work on the Merced-Fresno section.
But the authority hopes to begin buying the land it needs for the railroad right of way within the next couple of months. "That will be going on as a parallel process," Morales said.
Morales added that he believes the overall construction schedule has enough cushion in it to allow the work to be completed by the September 2017 deadline.