Gov. Parris N. Glendening harshly criticized the lead company seeking the main contract to rebuild the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, charging yesterday that the firm is attempting to "rip off" Maryland taxpayers.
"They have taken advantage of the situation," Glendening said. "I find it outrageous what happened."
The lone bid for the project - submitted last month - was $860 million. That figure was far more than the state's $500 million estimate for that portion of the work on the twin-span bridge on the Capital Beltway.
Glendening charged yesterday that the bidding company had "made inquiries of various subcontractors," learned that most hadn't signed on with any competing contractors, and thus "knew they were the only bidder."
He said four alternatives are being considered: negotiating a lower price with the bidder, soliciting new bids, breaking up the work into smaller projects for bidding or having the state serve as the general contractor with private companies as subcontractors.
The one bid for the project was submitted by a joint venture of three large construction firms - Kiewit Construction Co. of Omaha, Neb.; Tidewater Construction Corp. of Norfolk, Va.; and Clark Construction Group of Bethesda. Kiewit is the lead company.
Those three companies already are working on a $125.3 million contract to do foundation work at the bridge, having submitted the low bid among five proposals.
A Kiewit spokesman, Jerry Pfeffer, declined to respond to Glendening's charges, saying the company is "still in a procurement process with the state." But he denied that the company knew it was the only bidder.
"You never know until the bids are opened," Pfeffer said. "There are many other companies capable of this kind of work, and any of them could have put in bids."
The bridge project - one of the largest and costliest public works undertaken in the region - involves building two six-lane spans over the Potomac River on heavily traveled Interstate 95 between Oxon Hill, in Prince George's County, and Alexandria, Va.
The federal government is putting $1.5 billion toward the project, with Maryland and Virginia sharing the remaining costs. The total cost has been estimated at about $2.4 billion. The bridge is scheduled to be completed in 2007.
With last month's bid coming in so high, state officials have assembled an independent group to review the project, led by a retired director of the Utah Department of Transportation.
The group is expected to give a recommendation to the state next month. State officials have said their accelerated construction plans have been delayed at least five months - not enough to push back the projected completion date. Glendening pledged that the bridge will be done "on schedule."
He dismissed suggestions that his efforts to impose pro-union work rules on the job may have frightened away bidders or increased costs. Glendening dropped his push for a "project labor agreement" after the Bush administration indicated it would withhold federal funding if contractors were forced to comply.
"That's a red herring," Glendening said yesterday. He said the high cost of the lone bid was the result of "a huge company that saw an opportunity and took advantage of it."