Officials at the California bullet train agency have pushed back by months a key milestone in the upcoming construction, though they say the project is not falling behind and that they will be able to build 130 miles of track in the Central Valley by 2017.
Jeff Morales, chief executive officer of the project, acknowledged long-standing rumors in the construction industry that the deadline for submitting bids on the first segment would be pushed back from this week to Jan. 18, coming after an earlier revision that pushed the deadline back from September. It now appears that the agency will not issue a formal notice to proceed with construction until July.
Originally, the California High-Speed Rail Authority had said it would begin construction of the Los Angeles-to-San Francisco rail project this year. The timetable is critical, because federal funding deadlines require that the first segment be completed by September 30, 2017.
Construction industry experts say the authority is attempting to execute an extremely aggressive construction schedule, which will grow even more compressed if the starting point is delayed.
The first construction package covers the route from Madera to Fresno, including plans to run track through Fresno's downtown, close 600 businesses, move California Highway 99, realign Golden State Boulevard and build a major bridge over the San Joaquin River.
"There is no possible way they can meet the deadlines now," said Elizabeth Alexis, a co-founder of Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design, a frequent critic of the project's planning.
Morales, however, characterized the delay as "typical in design-build projects because it is an iterative process," meaning that construction firms and the authority have to exchange ideas as the final bids are prepared. Indeed, the authority has issued a number of revisions to its plans, sending contractors back to the drawing boards.
Morales said the change in bid deadline will not affect the overall construction timetable because the state has retained padding in its schedule. He said the authority would squeeze down its time to evaluate and review the bids if needed to stay on schedule.
In addition to the change in schedule, the authority has modified some of the tougher provisions it wanted in contracts, including one that would penalize contractors by $1 million a day for every day they delivered their final work behind schedule. The amount is now set at $60,000 a day.