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June 6, 2013

Emergency construction contract signed at 4 a.m. the day after I-5 bridge collapse

  • When WSDOT needs emergency repairs, who gets the contracts and how?
    Special to the Journal

    Images courtesy of WSDOT [enlarge]
    Crews from Acrow Bridge and Atkinson Construction are assembling a temporary bridge where I-5 spans the Skagit River. Atkinson won an emergency contract to replace the damaged bridge.

    In the aftermath of the Skagit River bridge collapse last month, Washington State Department of Transportation officials knew they needed to act fast on bridge repairs.

    The Interstate 5 bridge handles 71,000 vehicles a day, putting added pressure on WSDOT to get the repairs immediately underway.

    “There was no time to waste,” said Jay Drye, assistant regional administrator for WSDOT's Mount Baker office.

    Guidelines gave officials a clear path for how to begin the contractor hiring process. “We have very prescriptive policies for federal and state emergency contracting,” Drye said.

    The main goal, he said, was to hire a well qualified general contractor as quickly as possible. Within hours of the bridge collapse on May 23, WSDOT officials were reviewing their list of prequalified contractors from Washington and around the country.

    The state keeps lists of such contractors for events like the bridge collapse.

    “We targeted big firms with plenty of bonding capacity who have built complicated and technical projects,” Drye said.

    WSDOT officials looked at eight prequalified firms and, through an informal interview process, selected Colorado-based Atkinson Construction, which has an office in Seattle.

    The main requirements included the need for the winning firm to have key personnel with project management backgrounds that would be available to oversee the bridge repair and replacement.

    During the interview process, the contractors were candid about having the resources at that time to meet the demands of the project, Drye said. “They were pretty open and honest.”

    By 4 a.m. on the day after the bridge collapse, Drye said WSDOT was meeting with Atkinson team members at WSDOT's Burlington office to sign a contract for the job.

    The temporary bridge and replacement projects will cost about $15 million.

    Drye said WSDOT puts the emergency contracting procedures to use fairly frequently for projects of all sizes. A typical case would be hiring a contractor in the wake of a rock slide.

    The temporary bridge will be in place mid-month, then removed when a permanent bridge is finished in September.

    “We have to use it regularly with the geology and geography of this state,” he said.

    The city of Seattle's Purchasing and Contracting Services Division also keeps a list of prequalified contractors in case of an emergency project, according to Katherine Schubert-Knapp, communications director for the Department of Finance and Administrative Services.

    Price, quality and delivery terms are key factors in the city's decision of who to hire in an emergency, she said.

    In late May, for example, the city hired a contractor for an emergency repair at the Seattle Police Department's Harbor Patrol facility. The work included installing pin piles and concrete docking to repair sink holes, according to Schubert-Knapp.

    Even with all of its preparedness for emergencies, WSDOT is still dealing with some unknowns in the bridge repair and replacement project.

    “We have to take our best shot at the scope of the project based on the information we have,” at the time of the contact signing, Drye said. “It's an evolution.”

    The project involves salvage and removal, in addition to the bridge repair. The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the bridge collapse and will oversee the salvage and repair project. Drye said Atkinson will likely use a dozen or more subcontractors for the job.

    Crews are building a temporary bridge, which should be completed by mid-month. A replacement bridge will be build adjacent to the existing bridge and finished in September.

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