OAKLAND -- The contractor building the Bay Bridge's iconic suspension span will collect a $20 million bonus if it opens to traffic as planned on Sept. 3 -- an incentive state lawmakers fear will drive a risky rush to completion.
American Bridge/Fluor Enterprises and the three government agencies overseeing the construction agreed to the incentives in September 2010 as part of a plan to get the long overdue bridge back on track.
The extra cash is small potatoes relative to the $1.43 billion overall contract with the consortium of international mega builders. And the state, not the contractors, will make the final call about when the bridge opens.
"Incentives or no incentives, the bridge will open when it is safe and not a day before," said bridge spokesman Andrew Gordon.
But Bay Area state lawmakers are worried financial reward may lead to unsafe shortcuts, especially in light of public concerns about construction setbacks on the span, including busted bolts, bad welds and rusted tendons.
Some 14 legislators sent a letter to Metropolitan Transportation Commission Executive Director Steve Heminger this week seeking details about the incentives. State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, and Democratic assemblywomen Susan Bonilla of Concord, Joan Buchanan of Alamo and Nancy Skinner of Berkeley signed it.
"It is paramount that the public is assured that the opening of the bridge is not being rushed," the lawmakers wrote. "In order to build public confidence, the public must fully understand that incentives are not driving the targeted Labor Day opening."
Caltrans, Bay Area Toll Authority and California Transportation Commission officials have postponed until July 10 a go or no-go on the opening date, citing the unresolved timeline to complete the bolt retrofit and pending Federal Highway Administration review.
The plea for caution is ironic on a project that has been anything but rushed.
The span was supposed to open a decade ago. It will replace the existing 1936 eastern cantilever truss experts say will collapse in the next big earthquake.
But political squabbling coupled with the complexity of building the world's largest self-anchored suspension span has led to innumerable delays and cost overruns.
In 2010, the bridge team was worried about a slipping timetable. The project was behind schedule, and the contractor was demanding millions of dollars because of delays on final plans for two critical steel deck sections, Toll Bridge Program Manager Tony Anziano told the Bay Area Toll Authority at the time.
One eastbound and the other westbound, the deck pieces tie the suspension span to the skyway, contain the cable anchorages and feature special seismic safety devices called hinge-pipe beams. The side-by-side travel decks also curve, and the westbound lane sits higher.
Finalizing the 4,900 shop drawings for the two complex sections had proved more time-consuming than anticipated, Anziano said. By comparison, the first 11 deck pieces required a combined 8,000 sheets.
The contractor needed the approved drawings before it could pull the trigger on fabrication in Shanghai.
To jump-start the schedule, the team in September 2010 won approval to increase the then-$5.9 billion budget for the eastern span replacement by $293 million and offer American Bridge Fluor:
The following year, the bridge team unveiled construction changes and $16.8 million in additional incentives on adjacent contracts that would allow Caltrans to open both the eastbound and westbound lanes at the same time.
Of the $16.8 million, MCM was paid $9.3 million while American Bridge Fluor earned $7.5 million.