When the California High-Speed Rail Authority put the first stretch of
its statewide train system out for bids last year, the agency set a high
technical standard for five contracting teams courting the more than $1 billion
In March 2012, the authority's board decreed that even if all five teams submitted bids, only the three most "technically competitive" firms could compete based on cost to build the 29-mile segment in Madera and Fresno counties. The teams with the lowest technical scores would be dropped and their price envelopes returned unopened.
That rule, however, didn't stick. In August -- months before contractors submitted bids -- the authority's executive staff quietly altered the process without formal action by the board.
What was touted as a rigorous, competitive procedure to ensure that only the most technically sound bids would advance instead became a "pass/fail" analysis requiring contractors to only meet "the minimum elements required" before cost would be considered for all bidders.
That change -- seemingly minor in August -- is taking on greater significance now as the authority negotiates with its lowest-cost bidder. The team of Tutor Perini Corp. of Sylmar, Texas-based Zachry Construction and Parsons Corp. of Pasadena bid about $985 million to build the Fresno-Madera segment. That beat the state's estimates of $1.2 billion to $1.8 billion. The consortium's bid was deemed the "apparent best value."
But Tutor Perini/Zachry/Parsons also had the lowest technical score -- 20.55 points out of 30 -- among the five contracting teams. Put another way, the Tutor Perini group was deemed to be the least skilled of the bidders. That has prompted speculation that the team's bid may potentially have been eliminated from consideration if the evaluation process remained unchanged, and given rise to concerns about rigging the analysis in favor of Tutor Perini.
The rail authority declined to answer specific questions from The Bee about why the agency chose to amend the bid-evaluation process. Authority spokesman Rob Wilcox said in an email that "the authority's objective was to increase transparency and gain greater value for the project and the state."
"There was a real concern that by not opening all the bids, it could have left hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on the table," he said.
"It is important to note that on Caltrans design-build projects that use best value, they also base valuations on a combination of technical score and price, and all responsive bids are opened," he added.
Idea of rigging denied
A contract with Tutor Perini/Zachry/Parsons could be presented to the rail authority's board for approval in June.
In a letter to state legislative leaders this week, authority CEO Jeffrey Morales rejected the notion that the change had the effect of rigging the evaluation process in favor of Tutor Perini/Zachry/Parsons. "Any suggestion or implication that decisions were made with particular bidders in mind is completely without merit and has no basis in fact," Morales wrote.
Morales added that it's unfair to conclude that any bidding team would be dropped from consideration under the original process "because the actual bid proposals were submitted in light of the improved evaluation process, not the
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