There’s also good news for construction companies desperate for work during the recession. Several hundred company owners and project managers packed into the VFW Hall in Antioch last week to find out details of the project and networked with the prime contractors bidding on it. Some also walked the 1.8-mile length of the bridge on the catwalk underneath it.
But there’s also a bit of bad news for those who enjoy the graceful openness of the bridge design. Three-to-six cross-braces resembling large red X’s will be attached to the inside of the taller columns in the middle of the bridge.
Built in 1978, the Antioch Bridge is one of the newer bridges in the Bay Area. It was designed to standards in effect after the 6.6-magnitude San Fernando (or Sylmar) earthquake in 1971. But after the 7.1-magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 and the 6.7-magnitude Northridge earthquake in 1994, Caltrans implemented a seismic retrofit plan for seven toll bridges, including the Antioch Bridge. The retrofit is designed to provide safety in the event of an 8-magnitude “maximum credible earthquake” or MCE.
“The feasibility of reopening the existing Antioch Bridge to traffic following an MCE would be limited or precluded without the seismic safety improvement proposed,” an environmental report on the retrofit project states.
Most of the contractors and subcontractors at last week’s bridge conference were much more concerned about the earthquake that has hit the construction industry since the 10-magnitude Great Recession rocked the country several years ago, bringing new construction nearly to a halt.
“Business has been very, very slow,” said Camille Christian, co-owner of Charlie B. Global Construction Clean-Up. “So we are hoping to make some changes with some of these larger projects coming up.”
Christian drove out from Oakland with her co-owner and the company’s only other employee, Louissaint Bellot, in an attempt to get a piece of the lucrative contract. Their business provides cleanup of construction sites as well as and placement and removal of temporary fencing and signs at the sites.
“A contract like this would totally change the whole definition of our company,” said Christian. “We would still be a small company, but it would allow us to hire more people. We’ve sized down from a 20-man crew all the way down to just two. So it’s really been really rough. Over this recession period, people have been bidding so under the value that you go in the hole trying to keep up with the bids. So we are trying to stay afloat, trying to weather this storm and meet with other people on the other side of the storm.”
Their company qualifies as an Underutilized Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, which normally would be a major leg up in getting work in a Caltrans project. But the most-favored-company status for the bridge project is instead focusing on companies run by veterans, particularly disabled veterans, according to Olivia Fonseca, deputy director of Caltrans’ Office of Business and Economic Opportunity.
Fonseca said that while she was walking the half-mile to the VFW Hall because she had to park so far away due to the overflow crowd, a couple of business owners she passed asked whether the hall is holding an early bingo game. The bridge project is definitely a bingo bonanza for disabled vets in the construction trade. “Our charge at Caltrans is to get small businesses and disabled veterans involved in this project,” she said. “We know there are a lot of disabled vets that have returned from wars.” A prime contractor can receive an incentive bonus of $250,000 if 5 percent of the work is given to companies run by disabled vets.
In addition to the cross-bracing, the seismic retrofit will include installation of isolation bearings between the tops of the columns and the roadway, upgrades to the hinges between some of the bridge spans and removal of the concrete wall along the beginning of the bridge slope on Sherman Island.
The construction contract was advertised in December. Bids will be opened next month and contracts awarded in April. Work is scheduled to be completed in December of 2012, according to Project Manager Mo Pazooki.
About 15,000 vehicles travel over the bridge each day, enjoying an excellent view of the San Joaquin River, Antioch/Oakley shoreline and Sherman Island as they climb toward and descend from the 135-foot peak of the bridge arch.