SACRAMENTO (CBS/AP) – The board overseeing California’s $68 billion high-speed rail project approved a contract to start the first construction work for a bullet train in the Central Valley at its meeting Thursday in Sacramento.
The board approved a $985.1 million bid from a California-based joint venture after more than an hour of debate.
The selection has drawn scrutiny after it was revealed that the authority changed its rules for selecting a company after the process was made public, allowing the cheapest bid to be selected even though it had the lowest technical rating for safety and design quality.
Officials in April announced that a $985.1 million bid from a consortium led by Sylmar-based Tutor Perini was the top candidate out of five submitted to build the first 30-mile construction segment from Madera to Fresno. The bid came in below the authority’s estimated cost of $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion.
The bid process was changed without approval from the board that oversees the rail authority, which had delegated authority for such changes to high-speed rail Chief Executive Officer Jeff Morales.
Officials with the authority were concerned that their previous methodology, which called for considering only the bids with the three highest technical ratings, “could have left hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on the table,” the agency said at the time.
Under the new criteria, all the bids that met the technical criteria were considered, leaving the door open for the proposal from Tutor Perini-Zachry-Parsons.
High-speed rail opponents raised questions at the meeting about possible cost overruns and the financial health of Tutor Perini.
The authority’s chief counsel told the board there was no reason for concern.
Ron Tutor, Chief Executive Officer of Tutor Perini, told reporters the criticisms are “nonsense” fanned by the media.
High-speed rail officials have said the total cost of each bid was kept in sealed envelopes during the selection process while the other criteria were weighed, including a three-step technical review to ensure the bids met all the qualifications. The technical criteria were based on safety measures, engineering, scheduling, design quality, project approach and solutions to possible construction problems.
The competing firms will also receive a payout and the rail authority will get to keep the engineering and design work in their proposals.
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