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A big day in the future of the Silver Line Metrorail project has arrived. The five construction consortiums competing for the contract to build the final 11 miles of the commuter rail extension to Dulles International Airport and beyond into Loudoun County will submit their bids at a news conference this afternoon. The public unveiling of the bids will take place at the offices of the agency overseeing the construction of the $5.5 billion project, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA).
While a final decision is not expected until early May, the contractor team that submits the lowest bid at the 2 p.m. news conference will be in line to win the contract to build Phase II of Silver Line.
MWAA's project managers decided to procure a contractor through the low-bid process in order to get the lowest cost, because the rail extension is being largely financed on the backs of Dulles Toll Road users. Critics say accepting the lowest bid fails to guarantee the best possible design for the project.
"What the authority has done is let five different bidders each come in with its own design and then MWAA is obligated to pick the lowest price irrespective of whose design is the best," says Bob Brown, a former member of the MWAA board of directors whose term expired last year. "The authority will be forced to build whatever design the lowest bidder submits."
Moreover, the lowest bid price is not likely to be the final cost of Phase II because of the expected change orders that drive up the cost of any large project. MWAA officials insist the project oversight team will prevent unnecessary change orders.
"What you don't want to see is someone gaming the system where they bid low and come in and say they need more for this or that, and I don't think that is going to happen here," says MWAA board vice-chairman Tom Davis, a former Virginia congressman. "This is a much simpler project than Phase I. We have five very good, capable firms bidding, and I think the low bid ought to win it."
The five teams are 1) Fluor Enterprises, Tutor Perini, and Stacy and Witbeck, 2) Clark Construction and Kiewit Infrastructure, 3) Archer Western Contractors, PCL Civil Constructors, and Corman Construction, 4) Skanska USA, Granite Construction, G.A. & F.C. Wagman, Trumbull, and Facchina Construction, and 5) Bechtel Infrastructure, which built Phase I of the Silver Line from D.C. to Reston.
Dulles Toll Road users are protected by the low-bid process, Davis says. "If you ride the toll road and you don't like paying tolls, why wouldn't you want to go to the low bid? Seems to me you'd want the lowest bid and you wouldn't want to be overpaying for this. I ride the toll road every day and I'm satisfied with the process."
Once the bid prices are made public today, MWAA officials will spend the next few weeks verifying that the low bidder's design specifications are in order before awarding the contract. MWAA is obligated to accept the lowest bidder, but is prepared to handle any challenges that may arise from the four losing contractor teams.
A challenge is more likely if the winning bid is significantly lower than the other four bids. The estimated cost of building Phase II is $2.7 billion.
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