Missouri bridge repair plan delayed

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A plan to repair 800 of the state's worst bridges is being delayed by legal questions, Missouri transportation officials said Monday.

The State Highways and Transportation Commission planned to choose a contractor for the bridge program at its meeting next week. Instead, the decision has been delayed until the fall in hopes of finding a solution to bidders' concerns about the size of a required performance bond.

Performance bonds protect taxpayers if a contractor abandons a project after it has started.

The bridge repair program is expected to cost $400 million to $600 million. Potential bidders are concerned about the size of bond required.

One of the teams bidding on the project is led by United Contractors of Great Falls, S.C. The other is led by Zachry American Infrastructure of San Antonio.

Transportation officials say state law did not envision a project of this scope and should be adjusted. Legislation to address the issue was proposed this spring but failed.

Highway department lawyers believe the Missouri Department of Transportation can set the bond, department Director Pete Rahn has said, which in this case would equal the amount of construction in any single year. But bidders wanted additional assurance.

The state hopes to fix or replace nearly 80 percent of its substandard bridges by the end of 2012.

The project, announced last year, is one big contract that covers design, construction and 25 years of maintenance. It's intended to get the bridges fixed faster and cheaper than bidding each one separately.

Generally, state law requires construction projects have a performance bond in the amount of the contract and for its duration, which in this case could cover 30 years or more. Most contracts only require bonds through the construction phase.

Ken Warbritton, the bridge program project director, said bonds are not available in that size.

"The lenders who will be financing the successful team want clarification of this issue before they make a commitment," he said in a written statement.

Transportation officials are looking at changes in state law and other options when writing the contract.

"We're very much committed to delivering the Safe and Sound Bridge Improvement Program by the end of 2012," Rahn said in a written statement.

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