The Metropolitan Transportation Authority board Thursday awarded a $1.6 billion contract for the first phase of the Westside subway extension, turning aside protests from two losing bidders.

By a vote of 9-3, with one member abstaining, the MTA board awarded the contract to a team led by Skanska. The Westside subway is expected to reach La Cienega Boulevard by 2024. Skanska is currently working on the Expo Phase 2 extension to Santa Monica and the downtown Regional Connector project.

But the contract isn't final. The losing bidders, Dragados USA and Westside Transit Partners, have filed formal protests, which must be resolved before the contract is awarded. The losing bidders also may sue.
Dragados has claimed that MTA staff was “verbally abusive” to the Dragados team, and noted that its own bid was $192 million cheaper than Skanska's. That argument got the attention of a few board members, who voted against awarding the contract to Skanska.

“I just don't think staff made a good effort at justifying leaving $192 million on the table,” said Supervisor Don Knabe, who voted no. “I don't remember ever being asked to award a contract with that much money left on the table.”

Knabe also echoed an argument made by Dragados, that Skanska will be “spread too thin” because it will be working on three projects at the same time.

“We're putting all our eggs in one basket,” he said.

Dragados considers itself a global leader in building tunnel projects, and the firm took offense at MTA's low estimation of its project team. But some concerns have been raised about Dragados' work on a roadway tunnel in Seattle. In that case, the firm's tunnel-boring machine became stuck underground, and it's not expected to begin tunneling again until next year.

“There's a huge problem in Seattle, and we need answers,” said Glendale Councilman Ara Najarian. “The very best spin is that there's a dispute between Dragados and Seattle that’s getting ugly. We don’t need that when we do our Westside subway.”

Najarian voted to award the contract to Skanska. He was unmoved by the argument that Dragados' bid was cheaper.

“We’ve seen far too many times where a lower bidder comes in, and through cost overruns and change orders, the ultimate cost balloons,” Najarian said. “We're not being penny-wise and pound-foolish.”

Workers are expected to begin building temporary street decking next year. Station construction is scheduled to start in mid-2016, and tunneling is set for early 2017.

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