- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 2, 2002

ANNAPOLIS The $2.4 billion Woodrow Wilson Bridge construction project probably will be split into smaller contracts to open it to bidding by more contractors, Maryland Transportation Secretary John Porcari said yesterday.

The only bid the state received for a major portion of the Potomac River project was 75 percent higher than expected. In response, state transportation officials assembled a panel of engineers and construction industry officials to evaluate the $860 million bid from a joint venture of Kiewit, Tidewater and Clark for the bridge's superstructure. The state had estimated that part of the construction would cost $450 million.

The panel concluded that the Kiewit bid was too high, but state estimates also were too low.

The state rejected the bid last month, pushing back construction by at least eight months, said State Highway Administration chief Parker Williams.

The effort to replace the existing 40-year-old span also has been delayed by a dispute over labor rules on the work site.

"To date, we've been able to get under, around or through all of those obstacles and I'm convinced we'll do the same with this current issue," Mr. Porcari said.

The panel found several reasons why the state received just one bid, including other major projects, such as the Oakland Bay Bridge in California, which are drawing away the few contractors capable of a project of such magnitude.

Also, the specialized equipment needed for the project excluded some potential contractors and could drive up costs. The equipment includes dozens of barges, some of which must be custom made, up to five giant cranes and a significant amount of precast concrete.

Some contractors who passed the first time cited the political sensitivity of the project and the variety of governmental bodies involved.

Mr. Porcari said the superstructure project could be broken up into the Maryland section, which is mostly over water, the Virginia section, which is mostly over land, and the drawbridge in between.

More contractors could bid on the scaled-down portions of the bridge, including some that could handle the less technically difficult parts.

Mr. Williams estimated the contracts would be about $200 million or less.

Gerald Pfeffer, a spokesman for Kiewit, Tidewater and Clark, said the company would not rule out bidding again under the new format, but said he would have to see more definite plans before commenting further.

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