Eight weeks after Gov. Jerry Brown's administration abruptly dumped its $10 million Bay Bridge public affairs contract, agencies overseeing the new eastern span's construction this week quietly installed a smaller and cheaper temporary public employee team to handle PR.
Bart Ney, the man who had become the face of the new Bay Bridge, and others from his firm, MegaProject Studios, were offered the temporary positions, but they declined.
"We worked hard to make sure that Bart could come back, but he and his people want to stay together and make their firm work," Bay Area Toll Authority spokesman Randy Rentschler said. "I hope for them all the success in the world."
Ney said he hoped something could still be worked out.
"As someone who has led a successful communication team for the Bay Bridge over the past decade, including full bridge closures, the job that was offered to me was part of an unworkable plan," Ney said. "I still hope we can find a way to do this right."
The Toll Authority, Caltrans and the California Transportation Commission are jointly managing the $6.4 billion construction of the world's largest self-anchored suspension span.
The shift comes after state officials in December canceled Caltrans' three-year deal with MegaProject Studios, which had been awarded in May 2012. State officials called the contract excessive in cost and length, in particular, provisions for a documentary video and commemorative book.
The scaled-down team of five temporary government employees will cost toll-payers less than $1 million, work only 18 months, and provide basic public outreach services. Their work includes coordinating media, updating the website and leading educational tours for schoolchildren and the global seismic safety community, Rentschler said.
Andrew Gordon, who worked for a MegaProject Studios' subcontractor at the span, has been named bridge spokesman.
Caltrans' Bay Area public affairs branch chief Bob Haus and Rentschler's staff will also take on more bridge duties.
"We are working together to meet the challenges within our resources, and the partners are all stepping up," said Caltrans spokesman Will Shuck. "But the bridge is the star, not any one person or personality. This is a very important seismic project."
Caltrans routinely contracts public affairs work on construction projects rather than hire permanent employees for temporary work. Ney has done consulting work for Caltrans for more than a decade on several other Bay Area bridges, including the new Carquinez Bridge between Vallejo and Crockett.
In early 2012, Caltrans took steps to rework its public affairs services for Bay Bridge work and advertised a request for proposals. The proposal called for media relations, community outreach and project documentation on construction of the eastern span. The state also wanted the contractor to handle communications while crews dismantled the old bridge, which can't start until after the new span opens in late 2013.
MegaProject Studios was the only responder and won the contract. At that point, Ney and his colleagues had already earned reputations as sophisticated technology innovators for Bay Bridge communications and outreach.
In 2008, Ney released Bay Bridge Explorer, the first 3D mobile application to document a public works project during construction. He finagled free ads on a major television network about Bay Bridge construction closures in exchange for allowing "The Bachelor" to film a segment on the western span's cables.
Ney and his team also produced 3D video showing how the construction contractors would transfer the weight of the massive span from its temporary supports onto the giant cable and hold itself up.