The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) has approved five construction consortia to bid on the estimated $2.8 billion Phase 2 of the Rail-to-Dulles project. According to Leesburg Today, the bidders include Bechtel Transit Partners, which is building Phase 1, and four other groups with lead players ranging from Clark Construction Group and Kiewit Infrastructure to Archer Western Contractors, Sanska USA and Fluor Enterprises.
Of those, only Bechtel is known to be likely to utilize a voluntary Project Labor Agreement with organized labor. The PLA has worked well for Bechtel in Phase 1 of the Rail-to-Dulles project, which is nearing completion pretty much on time and on budget. But according to my source, two of the bidders are highly unlikely to use a PLA and two are playing their cards close to their chest and not revealing whether they will or not.
Thus, of the five most qualified bidders for the massive contract, it is safe to say that at least two, and possibly four, would have been disqualified if the MWAA board had stuck to its intention to require PLAs for all bidders. Fortunately, after being bludgeoned by political pressure, the board dropped the requirement. As a consequence, there is greater competition for the project and Virginians can be assured that the winner, even if it is Bechtel, will submit a lower bid, potentially saving the public hundreds of millions of dollars.
There are still unresolved issues regarding the rail project — citizen activist Bob Bruhns has questioned why the official cost estimate contains such inflated costs for parking decks — but at least on this one matter, it appears that the interests of the public will be served.
If Bechtel wins and chooses to lock in its labor force through a PLA, I will be the first to applaud it. Bechtel’s PLA-based business model appears to work well for it. But Virginians can be assured that stiff competition from open shop contractors will keep the final price tag for Phase 2 lower than it would have been.