Monday, June 24, 2013
Construction To begin on Cal High Speed Rail With Lowest Priced Firm
SACRAMENTO -- State bullet train leaders recently approved the start of construction for California's $69 billion high-speed rail line, choosing the cheapest but least qualified firm to build the first leg. The California High-Speed Rail Authority asked its staff questions for more than an hour, but ultimately said it was confident in choosing a Southern California firm that promised to save the state at least $100 million. The board voted 6-0 to select a developer group led by Sylmar-based Tutor Perini to lay the physical groundwork for the first 29 miles of track between Madera and Fresno, with work starting as soon as late summer. CEO Jeff Morales is expected to sign the formal contract with the developer in coming weeks following final negotiations. Tutor Perini's $985 million bid beat the state's initial $1.2 billion estimate and the bids offered by four competing firms from around the world, which ranged from $1.09 billion to $1.54 billion. But state rail officials graded Tutor Perini's technical score as 68.5 out of 100, last among the finalists, whose quality scores ranged from 69 to 92.4. Still, all five firms passed met the authority's basic standards for quality. "The questions really boil down to, can the successful bidder do the job, and will they do it within the confines of the contract as contemplated by the authority?" said board member Jim Hartnett, of Redwood City. "The questions that I had were answered to my satisfaction." High-speed rail opponents raised questions at the meeting about possible cost overruns and the financial health of Tutor Perini. But the company's CEO, Ron Tutor, told reporters the criticisms of his firm are "all nonsense" fanned by the media "to create controversy that doesn't exist." "Like most of the uneducated opinions you hear where we can't rebut them, they're not based on anything factual or real," he said. "We've built more large civil works programs in this state than anyone else, virtually all of them successfully and without the cost overruns they all allude to." Before construction can begin, the state must still clear a few last-minute hurdles. Those include buying up properties along the rail route and winning clearance from the federal Surface Transportation Board, which is expected to rule on the project in the next two weeks.