Workers make last-minute repairs Sunday to the Interstate 880 southbound connector ramp, which has been closed since the April 29 freeway fire. The lower ramp was scheduled to reopen this morning.
Workers make last-minute repairs Sunday to the Interstate 880 southbound connector ramp. (Sean Connelley - Staff)
Less than six hours after opening bids for replacing the freeway ramp that melted in a blaze of gasoline April 29, Caltrans awarded the contract for $867,075 to a Rancho Cordova contractor along with the promise of up to $5 million incentives for finishing early.

If CC Myers Inc. erects the new MacArthur Maze ramp by June 3 — less than a month from now — it will reap the entire $200,000-a-day bonus.

If the bridge connecting eastbound Bay Bridge traffic with eastbound I-580 is finished on the June 27 deadline, there will be no bonus and the contractor will, in theory, be giving Caltrans and taxpayers a bargain for their patience. There is a $200,000-a-day penalty for missing the deadline.

If everything is in order, work could begin tomorrow, just nine days after a gasoline tanker truck crashed on the I-880 connector ramp below and melted the upper ramp's steel support beams and collapsed its concrete decking.

"This is a good thing," said Randy Rentschler, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. "It's finding that contractor whose competitive advantage is speed. They will make their money as a result of getting the job done sooner, and for the public, that's a good thing."

The repaired lower deck, which connects westbound I-80 with southbound I-880, opened to traffic before rush hour this morning.

Caltrans engineers had estimated the cost of the project to be $5.2 million, which means CC Myers could make slightly more than that or a small fraction of that if the project becomes bogged down. The only previous indication of the projects's cost, given by Caltrans, the state's transportation department, was $20 million in emergency authorization funds.

Caltrans officials spent the morning and afternoon scrutinizing the low bid's details, verifying CC Myers' bonding to assure completion of the work and liability insurance in hopes of awarding the contract this afternoon by or before 5 p.m.

Caltrans Director Will Kempton said the three lowest bids -- from CC Myers, Pleasanton-based California Engineering Contractors, Inc. at $1.1 million, and North Highlands-based MCM Construction Inc. at $1.4 million -- show "the contractors are taking into account the incentives that they can earn from doing the work quickly."

The $20 million authorization was also considering other related costs such as engineering and work done directly by Caltrans workers, but Kempton said that he had expected the costs to be lower.

"We're getting really good prices because of the competition," Kempton said.

Asked about the range of bids, Kempton chalked it up to each contractor's workload. If they are busy with other projects and it would be more difficult to mobilize to rebuild the Maze, then they might have bid somewhat higher.

Just like the Maze's actual reconstruction work, the bid process was done at warp speed, compressing a normal request-for-bids phase from six weeks to less than four days and a 30-day bid verification process from 30 days to a few hours.

The news was welcomed in Washington by Rep. Barbara Lee, whose district includes the melted Maze and West Oakland neighborhoods that are absorbing the blocked freeway traffic. Lee came to the scene last Friday with U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, who pledged that the federal government would cover the cost of repairs.

"I see this as another positive sign that the necessary repairs will be made before next month's deadline," she said in an e-mailed statement, "and that everyone who has been impacted — commuters, businesses, and especially local residents impacted by the diverted traffic — will soon have their lives returned to normal."

--Contact Erik Nelson at enelson@angnewspapers.com or (510) 208-6410.

Read his Capricious Commuter blog at InsideBayArea.com