Construction Managers Chosen for Madera-Fresno Section

Jan 23rd, 2013 | Posted by

As Tim Sheehan reports, Wong/Harris have been chosen by the California High Speed Rail Authority to oversee the construction of the Madera to Fresno section of the project, slated to begin later this year:

The construction-management contract awarded Wednesday is worth up to $34.9 million to the joint venture of PGH Wong Engineering, a San Francisco engineering and consulting company, and Harris & Associates, a Concord-based consulting and management firm. Together, the companies will be the state’s eyes and ears supervising the Madera-to-Fresno work.

Wong/Harris beat three other bids for the construction management contract.

“These companies have extensive experience in transit and rail programs in California and around the country,” said Jeffrey Morales, the rail authority’s CEO. “They will ensure that the design-builder adheres to the conditions of the contract. They will be reviewing the work and reporting back to us.”

Diana Gomez, the authority’s project manager for the Central Valley region, said Wong/Harris will also help the agency evaluate bids from the five contracting teams.

Those five bids came in last week and are going to be reviewed over the coming weeks. The bidders are:

* California Backbone Builders, a consortium of two Spanish construction firms — Ferrovial Agroman and Acciona.

* California High-Speed Rail Partners, composed of Fluor Corp. of Texas, Swedish-based Skanska, and PCL Constructors of Canada.

* California High-Speed Ventures, made up of Kiewit Corp. of Nebraska, Granite Construction of Watsonville, and Comsa EMTE of Spain.

* A joint venture of Dragados SA of Spain, Denver-based Flatiron Construction Corp., and Shimmick Construction of Oakland.

* Tutor Perini Corp. of Sylmar, Zachry Construction of Texas and Pasadena-based Parsons Corp.

Almost a year ago we looked at the background of each of the five teams. All five have an extensive experience in major transportation projects, including rail. At the time I argued that the first group, California Backbone Partners, was probably something of a longshot given their comparative lack of experience on California transportation projects, but their experience in Iberia on high speed rail projects is significant. The others all have an extensive background in California, which also means they likely have their share of critics based on some of those projects.

Speaking of critics, the union representing the professional engineers employed by the state have criticized the way inspectors will be chosen for the first segment of construction:

The documents outlining the requirements for the bids say the independent contractor that would design and build the first phase of the project would hire the inspectors charged with testing the work on that segment, running from Madera to Fresno. The inspections would then be submitted to the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

Critics, including lawmakers and a state engineers union, say the arrangement could present a conflict of interest and that independent inspectors who are not aligned with the construction company are needed.

The inspection process outlined so far is not equivalent to having a state-employed engineer or an independently hired contractor on the ground looking at the work as it happens, said Bruce Blanning, executive director of Professional Engineers in California Government, the union that represents 13,000 state engineers.

“We believe that when you have a major public infrastructure project of that nature, that you should have somebody looking out for the public to ensure it is being built safely,” he said.

CHSRA CEO Jeff Morales defended the proposal, and noted that they can also add another layer of inspections by Caltrans staff as needed. He also added that the CHSRA would be conducting its own inspections, and that this process was standard for design-build contracts around the world.

  1. BMF from San Diego
    Jan 23rd, 2013 at 21:58

    Inspections should be undertaken by CHSRA, or, an independently hired contractor with no working relationship with the contractor. If undertaken by the contractor, they have a conflict of interest in reporting any issues. It is quite stupid to think otherwise.

    And, what does Caltrans know about systems uses by high speed trains? Answer… They don’t! The CHSRA should contract with foreign entities that have the expertise…. and continue doing so until sufficient expertise is available in the States.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    I think we can all agree the best idea is to have a PB vice president paid by the state to supervise the PB prime contractor. That cuts down on the number of layers involved, and the process is standard for graft-grift projects all around the third world.

    joe Reply:

    Not one critic, including yourself, can explain how Jeff Morales’ former job at PB puts him in conflict with his current job.

    There are laws against going from Gov’t to a feathered nest in the private sector. He went the opposite direction.

    You haven’t earned any right because of your hurt feelings or chronic angry, to mislead people and imply a falsehood.

    VBobier Reply:

    That’s cause Richard is channeling the dead Howard Jarvis, He hated Government….

    Alon Levy Reply:

    There are laws against lying to the public about WMD in Iraq, too.

    Joe Reply:

    Exaggeration and bullshit is exactly what critics are trying to do with HSR. What a perfect example – a bunch of crap spun to imply a crime and scam.

    So tell me the scam here. How does Jeff Morales abuse his position and PB to enrich himself?
    Certainly it cannot be a kick back since that form of corruption is independent of employment history.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It’s about lobbying and access, for one. Dick Cheney hasn’t gone back to Halliburton since leaving office; he still gave the company no-bid contracts in Iraq.

    BMF from San Diego Reply:

    Yes, it’s paying it backwards.

    joe Reply:

    and Dick Cheney gave no-bid contracts to other companies as well.

    You’ve compared HSR to the Iraq War and Jeff Morales to Dick Cheney.

    Still no explanation as to why Jeff Morales is motivated to direct work to a specific company – no indication there’s a scam or way for him to profit from his former relationship. That’s because there is none. He’s exposed to legal risks by circumventing the laws and there’s no personal stake for him to take that risk.

    I think your line of argument’s proven this line of attack on HSR and the CEO is bluster.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Cheney gave no-bid contracts to other companies that he, Bush, and Rumsfeld had been involved in. The most obvious telltale sign is that the worst no-bid contracts involved oil, the industry Cheney and Bush came from.

    joe Reply:

    Cheney is a terrible man and was Vice President. A simpler explanation is he is a paranoid authoritarian.

    Some HSR critics will catch every problem because everything is a problem. Never wrong and never reliable.

    Going after Morales for his past employment is a loser unless there’s some explanation for what he’s getting in return for bypassing laws and ethical conduct.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Consulting gigs.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Good will, for one thing. If you favor the interests of the Tejon Ranch Co., say, over the interests of the citizenry, well, you accrue good will.

    Movin’ on up…

    Stephen Smith Reply:

    Jeff Morales is going to have a career after the CHSRA, ya know. The revolving door doesn’t involve crude quid-pro-quos, but you can be that after his time at CHSRA, the big engineering firms are going to be fighting to hire him.

    Stephen Smith Reply:

    Augh, *you can be sure

    joe Reply:

    Damn straight companies will fight to hire the guy who successfully lead CA-HSR.

    People have careers – you are confusing career with corruption.

    Working at CA-HSR provides experience. He’s entitle to that benefit for working in the Gov’t.

    No one expects Gov’t CA-HSR staff to leave their field and never work in that area again.

    Still no explanation of how or the incentives to scam the CAHSR.

    The LAWS clearly limit Jeff Morales post CS-HSR employment contingent on his decisions during his time in the government. It limits where he can work the types of customers POST CA-HSR.

    synonymouse Reply:

    At the CHSRA corruption is career.

    Stephen Smith Reply:

    No one expects Gov’t CA-HSR staff to leave their field and never work in that area again.

    Believe it or not, there are other ways to have a “career” in the “field” without working for a big engineering firm gorging on government contracts.

    After Manuel Maynar Melis ended his tenure as CEO of Metro Madrid (one marked by some of the cheapest and most efficient subway tunneling projects on earth), for example, he started teaching at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid. After Gene Skoropowski left the Capitol Corridor, he first worked at HNTB, a consultancy, for a few years, but was quickly snatched up by the Florida East Coast to manage All Aboard Florida (he said he missed the day-to-day running of a railroad, something he didn’t get at HNTB). Jay Walder left the MTA for MTR Corp Ltd, the private Hong Kong subway operator. David Gunn left SEPTA for NYCTA, NYCTA for WMATA, WMATA for TTC, and then TTC for retirement before being brought out to run Amtrak (and is now back in Nova Scotia in retirement, though my understanding is that he still does some consulting directly for WMATA).

    So as you can see, there are options besides walking straight through the revolving door into a big engineering firm that gets lots of plush contracts from the government. Morales hasn’t left yet left the CHSRA so it’s too soon to say, but if he does end up going to work for an engineering firm, it will definitely be indicative of an incentive problem that was at play during his tenure at the CHSRA.

    joe Reply:

    Believe it or not, there are other ways to have a “career” in the “field” without working for a big engineering firm gorging on government contracts.”

    “gorging”, plush contracts” You’re a propagandist.

    The hyperbole is ridiculous. Here’s the man’s Bio below. He has a solid record in the public sector – I don’t see any revolving or gouging.

    Mr. Jeffrey Morales, Jeff has been Chief Executive Officer of California High Speed Rail Authority since May 29, 2012. Mr. Morales serves as a Principal Consultant of PB Consult Inc. Mr. Morales serves as a Project Manager for the Congestion Pricing Operating Plan for Los Angeles County. He is an expert in strategic planning and program implementation. Mr. Morales, who worked as a senior vice president of Parsons Brinckerhoff, the Charlotte, N.C.-based transportation construction firm, takes over the high-speed rail project at a critical time. He joined PB after a strong public sector career focused on transportation policy and management. He served as an Executive Director of the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) from 2000 to 2004. He has overseen the expansion of the largest transportation program in the State’s history, and through the development of new policies, greater efficiencies and innovative practices, has helped re-establish the Department as a national leader. At the Chicago Transit Authority, he spearheaded ridership and capital investment improvements, and previously held key positions at the USDOT and in U.S. Senate. Prior to his tenure at CTA, he served as a Senior Staff Member with Vice President Al Gore’s National Performance Review. He served as Program Manager of Major Project Business Unit Interchange Programme at Transport for London (TfL), guiding delivery of a range of projects under development. He serves as a Member of Board of Advisors at Eno Transportation Foundation. From 1996 to 1997, he was Issues Director of the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security. Internationally, Mr. Morales is known for providing capital investment policy guidance to TfL in the development and implementation of its £10 billion ($18 billion) capital program. He has been Executive Director of California High Speed Rail Authority since May 29, 2012. He is nationally recognized for developing innovative policies and practices resulting in improved productivity and customer service across the federal, state and local agencies he served.

    That this quality appointment bothers you is a shame.

    Stephen Smith Reply:

    I don’t see any revolving…

    If going from a job as senior VP at PB who worked on Calif. HSR to a job with the CHSRA while PB is still the job’s prime contractor isn’t a “revolving door” to you, then you clearly don’t understand the meaning of “revolving door” in a political context, and are not worth arguing with.

    Some quotes for your perusal:

    Morales has led the formation of the project’s business plan, which includes a vision to secure the remaining 80 percent of the $69 billion needed to build the rail line, as a consultant with the Sacramento construction management firm Parsons Brinckerhoff. […]

    “How can we expect this insider to provide an independent review of the project?” asked state Sen. Doug LaMalfa, R-Rocklin, who is trying to get the project back on the ballot.

    Critics also question whether Parsons Brinckerhoff has a conflict of interest because the firm helped bankroll the ballot measure that launched the project — and in return received a contract from the authority worth nearly $200 million.

    “I wouldn’t take a chance, as good as he may be, with somebody who’s working for the project manager,” said former board chair Quentin Kopp, who ranked Morales last among four finalists in 2010. “I would still be troubled. The appointment of Jeff will raise questions.”

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Joe, didn’t you just say it’s illegal to go from government toward industry? If so, how come Morales went from Caltrans to PB?

    joe Reply:

    Look up the word revolving. Morales didn’t revolve.
    Morales formulated the business plan – explain how he uses that experience to enrich himself as the CAHSR CEO. What’s the scam where he gets a plush or gorges himself.

    You misuse the meaning of conflict-of-interest (which can be a crime) and hilariously quote the Mercurynews which also lobbies and endorses candidates and ballot initiatives – they have a financial stake in outcomes too.

    There is no conflict of interest lobbying for voters to approve HSR and then winning the award.

    Again the Critics like yourself become irrational when PB is involved. Wolf wolf wolf. No is coming anymore because you guys are over-the-top and irrational.

    joe Reply:

    “Joe, didn’t you just say it’s illegal to go from government toward industry? If so, how come Morales went from Caltrans to PB?”

    No I did not write it was blankly illegal. That’s why no one, not even frothing teabaggers would use that line of attack on the CAHSRA and have him investigated.

    If you guys see a conflict – name it – tell me the scam or name the law broken.

    He owns massive amounts of stock? He is directing contracts for kickbacks? He is feathering a bed and will jump to that job and enrich himself? I believe those are all illegal.

    Stephen Smith Reply:

    Look up the word revolving. Morales didn’t revolve.

    You are an idiot. That is all.

    Jonathan Reply:

    @Alon: there are? Maybe you should inform Eric Holder.

  2. James in PA
    Jan 23rd, 2013 at 23:59

    Scare mongering in Palo Alto. I mentioned Clem’s blog in the comments in hopes of enlightening some readers.

    Grade separations at Churchill, Meadow, Charleston?
    Council members say Palo Alto soon will have to face up to ‘very contentious’ issue

  3. StevieB
    Jan 24th, 2013 at 00:31

    Politico offers California rail: We don’t need cash — yet.

    “This can only be looked at as a true public-private partnership. That’s our approach, that’s our philosophy,” California High-Speed Rail Authority Chairman Dan Richard said. “We think that’s attractive to the leadership in the House.”

    “High-speed rail has a future in our nation. As we continue to plan and grow, high-speed rail has to be part of the solution,” house railroads subcommittee Chairman Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) said. On the other hand, he “will continue to offer that amendment and push it forward in any transportation bill as long as they continue to hide their business plan from the public.”

    StevieB Reply:

    The amendment Denham is referring to is one House Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who is No. 3 in the majority’s leadership, and Denham are together pushing as an amendment to the next spending bill to cut off further federal funds from going to California’s burgeoning rail system.

    joe Reply:

    Call it the Denham/McCarthy DeFund HSR Amendment.

  4. Ben
    Jan 24th, 2013 at 08:14

    This article and the other articles I’ve read about a possible Metrolink connection to Ontario makes no mention of high speed rail or the CA High Speed Rail Authority, which is strange since ONT is on the proposed route for Phase II of the high speed rail investment. In the Bay Area, the CA High Speed Rail Authority is pursing the blended route with Caltrain. Perhaps this is too preliminary but if there are discussions about funding, project timeline, procuring Right of Way, etc…, it would make a lot of sense for the High Speed Rail Authority to be part of the conversation as well. Additionally, Prop 1A funds can also be used to pay for local transit connections to the high speed rail system.

    LA city subcommittee backs report on possible ONT rail connections

  5. BMF from San Diego
    Jan 24th, 2013 at 11:05

    It’s too early to bring in HSR to the Ontario connection…. It’s about timing or phasing. Although I agree in concept.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    Yes, only 10 years before HSR gets to LAUS, 2030 for Ontario? Would be nice to do something before that. And LA metro has more than enough HSR connection projects to spend whatever funds may be available, LAUS itself being a key.

  6. Derek
    Jan 24th, 2013 at 14:33

    Spain cuts high speed ‘ghost train’
    by Fiona Govan, Telegraph online

    Spain’s state-controlled rail operator has been forced to axe one of its newest high speed train services after it emerged that the only nine passengers were using it each day.

    synonymouse Reply:

    This article is difficult to decipher but I assume there was some slower speed passenger service on the line in question, unlike a certain “ghost train” on steroids we all know that has not seen scheduled passenger service in decades but on which we are going to blow $20bil.

    Who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters! Go Richard Tolmach.

    J. Wong Reply:


    Madera-Fresno _is_ pretty much covered by the San Joaquin’s, is it not?

    synonymouse Reply:

    Bako-Mojave-Palmdale: don’t worry; if you miss one there’ll be another train along any minute.

    Hey, pour some hollow-core; blast some hollow-core. I-280 in Dogpatch was relatively poured the day before yesterday. Stilts go up; stilts come down. tempus fugit

    Ditto for stilts at Tehachapi. What do you think is going to happen to them if and when the CHSRA is privatized and nobody wants it? They would consider abandoned viaducts a safety hazard.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Amtrak, which has a nationwide equipment shortage, would certainly be willing to cut back on the slower San Joaquin services (the faster HSR services would be more popular in this loooong corridor) and move the railcars to a different part of the country for other service.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Amtrak doesn’t own the equipment on the San Joaquin, California does.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    By the time the Californians take delivery on their HSR train sets the train now running in California will be too old for service someplace else.

    Peter Reply:

    California will be getting a new set of bi-level “high speed” cars long before HSR is up and running.

    joe Reply:

    Made at Nippon Sharyo’s plant in Rochelle, Illinois.

    The California Department of Transportation, which was the lead agency for the rail car purchase, announced the $352 million award Wednesday.

    “The fact that they moved here from Japan to Illinois enables them to compete for these contracts,” said Brooke Anderson, a spokeswoman for Gov. Pat Quinn, said of Nippon Sharyo.

    California will receive 42 rail cars. The other 88 cars will be purchased by a Midwest coalition of Illinois, Michigan, and Missouri. Illinois said the train car purchase will better accommodate passengers and high speed rail.

    The rail cars will be delivered between 2015 and early 2018.

    In the Midwest, the rail cars will be used on these routes:

    Blue Water (Chicago-Port Huron, Mich.)
    Wolverine (Chicago-Detroit-Pontiac, Mich)
    Pere Marquette (Chicago-Grand Rapids, Mich.)
    Illini/Saluki (Chicago-Carbondale)
    Lincoln Service (Chicago-St Louis)
    Missouri River Runner (St Louis-Kansas City)
    Illinois Zephyr/Carl Sandburg (Chicago-Quincy)

    Future services between Chicago-Rockford-Dubuque, Iowa and Chicago and the Quad Cities, with potential extension to Iowa City.

    “These 130 bi-level railcars will revitalize America’s passenger rail manufacturing industry base by creating new jobs up and down the rail supply chain and fostering a stronger market for passenger rail,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.

    The Nippon Sharyo plant covers 465,000 square feet near Interstates 39 and 88, about 25 miles south of Rockford. It’s in Prologis Park in Rochelle’s southeast quadrant where it has access to the Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail lines.

    At full production the plant will employ up to 300 manufacturing and office workers.

    “It is good news for Illinois that the intent to award has gone to an Illinois-based manufacturing company Nippon Sharyo,” said Quinn.

    Joey Reply:

    The article seems to try and equate this failed service with infrastructure, whereas in reality the track it runs on was build primarily to serve other markets.

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